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04.05.16

Parliament is failing to halt over-spend on government projects – MPs

Poor data and increasing complexity are undermining Parliament’s ability to hold the government to account, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has warned.

The PAC report criticises Departmental Accounting Officers (DAOs) for allowing projects to go unchallenged owing to the increasing complexity of projects and a lack of accurate performance data.

It says that DAOs allowed projects such as funding to the now-closed Kids Company charity and the e-Borders programme to go ahead despite clear evidence of a lack of value for money.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, said: “Any threat to effective scrutiny requires serious attention as it risks weakening Parliament’s ability, on behalf of the public, to hold the government to account for its spending.

“We are particularly concerned that accountability arrangements have lagged behind changes in the way government conducts its business. Data is persistently inadequate and there is an urgent need for greater clarity on lines of responsibility.”

The report warns that DAOs do not deploy ministerial directions, used to flag concerns, often enough.

It also says that because of the increasing complexity of the way the government implements policies, including increased outsourcing and devolution, DAOs are now commonly head of a system of accountability instead of being personally responsible for spending, but the accountability system has failed to keep pace with this.

The Committee requires all government departments to prepare accountability system statements with their next annual report and accounts.

It also says that DAOs should specify in their accountability system statements what financial and performance data they need, provide greater positive assurance over major projects and initiatives during their implementation. Additionally, they should prepare assessments of major projects and policy initiatives in line with Treasury guidance, where they have concerns about policies’ feasibility or value for money, and make those assessments available to Parliament.

A recent National Audit Office report also criticised DAOs for failing to fulfil their job functions.

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