PAC calls for clarity on ‘centre of government’s’ strategic role

21 Oct 14
Confusion over central government’s strategic role is jeopardising the value for money of public spending, according to the Public Accounts Committee.

By Marino Donati | 22 October 2014 

Confusion over central government’s strategic role is jeopardising the value for money of public spending, according to the Public Accounts Committee.

In its report on the centre of government, the committee said that there was a lack of clarity about its precise role, especially the contributions of the Cabinet Office, the Treasury and the Prime Minister’s Office, and how they work together.

The PAC found that there was a conflict between ministers and senior civil servants about the role of the centre of government.

The centre was often too slow to step in and prevent major programmes from failing and protecting the interests of the taxpayer, it concluded. This was exacerbated by the lack of a joined-up single view of strategic risks across government.

Gaps in key skills at the centre and across departments such as financial management capability and contracting expertise were also highlighted.

The PAC called for a clear statement from permanent secretaries on the role of the centre of government, which should set out how its different bodies work together and how it works with other central government departments.

The centre should also set out how it will improve performance management and incentives, to ensure that departments deliver cross-government priorities successfully and within the intended timescales. And it should form an integrated, single view of strategic risks, intervening earlier to prevent project failure, and ensure past lessons are learned when planning new projects.

The Treasury was urged to set out how it planned to strengthen the finance function across government.

PAC chair Margaret Hodge said: ‘Confusion exists at the heart of government about what exactly the role of ‘the centre’ – Number 10, the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury – should be.

‘This current lack of clarity about the precise role and responsibilities of the centre jeopardises government’s ability to deliver value for taxpayers’ money in key public spending areas.

‘Correspondence we received appears to demonstrate a conflict between ministers at the centre, who want it to play a more effective, smart and challenging role, and senior civil servants who are resistant to change and remain wedded to departmental autonomy.’

This meant that there was no clear definition of the role of the centre and the responsibilities for implementing cross-government initiatives, such as debt collection and centralised procurement, are not always clear, she said.

Hodge added that some departments were making ‘unacceptably slow progress’ on some central efficiency initiatives such as shared back-office services and debt collection, resulting in taxpayers’ money being wasted.

She said: ‘The centre needs to challenge departments more actively on their implementation of cross-government initiatives, like civil service reform and centralised procurement, including by holding permanent secretaries more strongly to account for departmental performance.’



CIPFA logo

PF Jobsite logo

Did you enjoy this article?