Improving the Accounting Officer Assessment process – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Committee of Public Accounts

Related inquiry: Improving the Accounting Officer Assessment Process

Date Published: 30 November 2022

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Summary

An accounting officer assessment (AO assessment) is an important mechanism to help hold government to account for how it spends public money, whilst also providing a framework for accounting officers to show how their decisions on major programmes align with expected standards. This helps them balance political and practical programme considerations.

AO assessments have been a key part of the accountability framework for many years and we have continually advocated for their use to support high quality decisionmaking and enhance transparency across Whitehall. We are therefore disappointed that departments are not making as much use of these assessments as they should. The quality of published assessments varies across departments, with some not providing sufficient detail to allow for a good understanding of either the programme or the accounting officer’s assessment of risks. The relevance and value of AO assessments has also been seriously undermined by unnecessary delays in their publication, with some departments taking over a year to publish an assessment after it has been signed.

There seems to be consensus across Whitehall around the value of AO assessments, but this needs to translate into better use of them in practice. There is clear scope for HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office to better promote their use, particularly across those accounting officers responsible for policy programmes. There is also scope for HM Treasury and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority to make more use of AO assessments to deepen their understanding of individual programmes and build systemic insights. Departments are also facing significant challenges—notably a shortage of skills and the impact of inflation—affecting their ability to deliver value for money across government programmes. Given these significant risks and potential changes to programmes in the future, we expect to see an increase in summary AO assessments being published and much more consistency in their quality.