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Parliament should have permanent scrutiny of Government accounts

Giving credit where credit is due, the Government was quite right to start the process of publishing the Government’s accounts in full – even if not  just for the Tories’ motives, but certainly for other reasons.   The Tories are keen to ensure greater efficiency for their contracts, though competitive tendering ought already to be achieving this.   But the real reason why this is a good innovation is that it increases transparency of Government expenditure (the public’s right to know how their taxed money is spent) and it enhances Parliament’s capacity to hold the Government more effectively to account.   Already it’s showing  in the last 5 months some embarrassing trends for the Government.

As the recruitment for Whitehall jobs was frozen, payments to agency staff soared 65%.   The Government’s enormous (and highly controversial) IT bill is still leaching nearly £1bn.   The administration of the honours system and the PM’s office improvements cost more than £200,000.    Whilst some consultancy and advertising costs are being cut, a new consultancy surge is apparent in showing civil servants how to make cuts.

Already it raises several important questions.   Is it really justified to pay Capita, the Government’s largest outsourcing firm, £3.1bn for teachers’ pension payments which the company handles?   Is this the start of large-scale privatisation of civil service functions, with the loss of accountability that that entails?   Is it justified to be handing over £2.7bn of taxpayers’ money for PFI contracts, mostly in the educational sector, when they have been repeatedly shown to offer such poor value for money and had to be bailed out – again with taxpayers’ money – about 9 months ago?   Should KPMG, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and PwC be auditing the Government’s accounts when they themselves received £70m from Government contracts over the last 5 months?

In 196,525 lines of financial data there is a mass of key information to be painstakingly quarried.   This shouldn’t be left to the occasional investigative journalist.   Parliament should set up a new Select Committee with a remit for continuous scrutiny of the Government’s accounts and regular reporting to the House and wider public on inefficiencies, irregularities, waste, and lost opportunities.

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