Government told to open its books

House of Commons select committees are to get new powers, staff and money to scrutinise the accounts and financial affairs of every government department, it was revealed this week.

The new audit role will be a major part of moves to boost their influence and standing, leader of the Commons Robin Cook said.

Each committee will appoint one member as ‘rapporteur’ on financial affairs to lead the new scrutiny of the accounts.

National Audit Office staff will be seconded to the committees to help in this role working closely with the rapporteur.

As chairman of the modernisation committee Cook outlined new powers to enable the bodies – renamed ‘scrutiny committees’ – to hold the government to account, examine draft legislation and check public money is well spent.

The new all-party bodies – whose chairmen may be paid extra – will be tasked to ‘examine and report on main estimates, annual expenditure plans and annual resource accounts’.

Cook said the scrutiny of departmental spending was a weakness that the new proposals would put right. Committees have been lobbying for powers, staff and money to tackle job for years.

As well as NAO staff, there will be a major increase in the personnel and financial resources available for the new scrutiny committees with a central ‘specialist support unit’.

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