1 Accounting Officer role and accountability
1. It is central to the British constitution that
the Crown (Government) can only do what Parliament will pay for.
Parliament rightly expects that public funds will be managed properly
with a strong focus on value for money. HM Treasury has set
out, in Managing Public Money, the principles
that central government bodies should apply when managing public
resources. Managing Public Money recognises that 'the duty
to safeguard public funds is invariant. But how it is carried
out will change over time'.
2. The personal accountability of the Accounting
Officer forms the foundation of Parliament's ability to hold the
Executive to account for public spending.
Ministers are answerable to Parliament for policy decisions and
the actions of the departments and their executive agencies. The
Accounting Officer, normally the Permanent Secretary in the department,
is personally responsible for the regularity and propriety of
expenditure, robust evaluation of different mechanisms for delivering
policy objectives, value for money, the management of risk, and
accurate accounting for the use of resources. To support these
responsibilities the Accounting Officer requires an effective
3. We, the Committee of Public Accounts, hold Accounting
Officers to account for the delivery of these objectives by considering
the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG).
The C&AG audits the accounts of all government departments
and agencies as well as a wide range of other public bodies and
reports to Parliament on the value for money - the economy, efficiency
and effectiveness - with which these bodies have used public money.
This system of accountability to Parliament has been agreed between
the Treasury and this Committee for many decades.
4. The Accounting Officer model has a number of strengths
and has led to high standards of propriety in public spending
and a focus within departments on regularity and the importance
of securing value for money. We have, however, observed tensions
in how this accountability is exercised at present and potential
complications may arise in future from greater devolved delivery
of public services. For example, the diversification of the range
and type of service providers, delivery bodies and structures
over the past two decades and the devolution of power from major
Whitehall departments have diminished the extent to which this
accountability is vested in the Accounting Officer.
1 HM Treasury, Managing Public Money, October
2007, Foreword, paragraph iii. Back
Qq 32, 78 Back