MPs highlight weak commitment to transparent financial reporting

27 Jun 18

MPs have slammed the government for its slowness in responding to a call for more transparent public spending and its apparent lack of commitment to scrutiny.

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee today issued a follow up to last year’s report, produced by its predecessor committee, which called for “fundamental changes” to how the government reports its spending.

Today’s PACAC report was critical of the government’s slowness to respond to the 2017 recommendations. The government’s official response took almost a year to emerge rather than the two months recommended by the Cabinet Office.

“This unusual response underlines how much needs to change in respect of government accounting,” the PACAC said.

The committee also took issue with the government’s suggestion that Freedom of Information requests and select committee inquiries were sufficiently robust tools to scrutinise spending decisions.

It stated: “We are not convinced by the government’s argument that ministerial commitments can be tracked through normal select committee scrutiny or FOI requests. These mechanisms are not developed to track ministerial commitments and are not systematic.”

PACAC chair Bernard Jenkin said: “The government needs to recognise it must be much more transparent about public spending.

“The government must rethink its opposition to publishing what happened after ministers promised to cut or spend money.

“Our research found 209 ministerial spending commitments in 2017. It is unrealistic to expect 209 FOI requests or select committee inquiries to investigate the results of each statement but that is what the government thinks should happen.”

Today’s report also focused on what the recommended review of Whitehall’s annual reports and accounts should cover if publications are to be made more useful to Parliament and the public.

The government in its belated response to the committee promised it would conduct such a review.

Specifically, the committee said the review team should be widened to include more representatives of users of accounts and that the report be produced within six months.

The committee also noted “widespread lack of confidence in the accuracy and fairness of the non-financial elements of the annual report and accounts”.

It recommended the government “include considerations of extra independent checks on the unaudited information, particularly the performance information, as part of its review into the annual report and accounts as a whole”.

A Treasury spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring our annual reports and accounts provide transparency.

“We will be examining the committee’s report carefully to understand any opportunities to make further progress.”

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