Public Accounts Committee

Accountability for Taxpayer’s Money inquiry

Inquiry status: open

Public Accounts Committee holds a session on accountability for taxpayer's money, dates and times to be confirmed.

Scope of the inquiry

The role of the Accounting Officer in safeguarding probity, regularity and value for taxpayers’ money is a crucial part of accountability to Parliament. The National Audit Office (NAO) are undertaking a report which looks at the challenges facing those at the top of departments in fulfilling their Accounting Officer role in a world where complexity in the delivery of government business and public services is increasingly making accountability systems opaque, and where they face conflicting demands from their other role of supporting Ministers to deliver urgent policy objectives.

With increasing complexity in government, comes a complex picture of responsibilities, involving locally devolved services, contracted-out functions and complex financing arrangements, among other developments. Even where accountability is devolved, Accounting Officers are responsible for ensuring that there are robust overall accountability arrangements throughout the delivery system. Without absolute clarity about accountability, however, both service improvement and fiscal savings are at risk of "falling through the gaps", with Parliament unable to hold anyone responsible.

In some areas such as devolved services, accountability arrangements are an afterthought, or are still developing. The Public Accounts Committee repeatedly sees examples where it is not clear who is accountable for what and in the last Parliament our Committee pushed for greater clarity.

National Audit Office report

The NAO report looks at the frameworks through which Accounting Officers gain assurance over the value for money delivered under their areas of accountability. It considers the evidence, including from the use of Ministerial Directions, as to how effectively Accounting Officers as discharging their responsibility to safeguard value for money (e.g. in the recent Kids’ Company example). It also looks at the role of the Treasury in overseeing the accountability system and suggest ways to bolster accountability to Parliament.

The Public Accounts Committee last examined overall government accountability arrangements in 2012, when they were concerned about the clarity of Accounting Officers’ roles and the robustness of accountability frameworks in the light of increasing localism. Since then, other developments in government and public service delivery have added to the complexity of those frameworks. This landscape review looks at the current challenges to securing accountability for taxpayers’ money.

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