MPs raise constitutional fears over Resource Accounting Bill

The all-party House of Commons Public Accounts Committee is concerned that it may reduce the effectiveness of arrangements to control public expenditure and make government departments accountable for their actions.

The committee was disappointed it had not been consulted on the drafting of the Bill in the light of its previous examinations of resource accounting and fears that the Commons may lose out in terms of controlling Whitehall.

It said that many government departments are well behind their timetable for producing resource accounts and the bill should not be brought into effect until parliament is sure the new system works.

Today’s report expresses suprise that the Bill does not take the opportunity to update the role and powers of the Comptroller and Auditor General on behalf of parliament to reflect the way public services are organised and delivered in the modern age.

Specifically the PAC called for the Bill to ensure the C & AG can audit the 80 executive non-departmental public bodies with budgets of more than £3bn currently audited by accountants appointed by and reporting to ministers.

The committee wants the C & AG to have statutory rights of access to information and explanations matching those demanded by departments when they delegate activities to groups like housing associations and Private Finance Initiative contractors.

And the PAC wants performance reports from government departments to be independently validated.

The PAC’s Tory chairman David Davis said today: ‘This Bill has been presented as a purely technical measure but it is much more than that. It is in fact a significant constitutional measure that is about the relationship between government and parliament and the rights of Westminster versus the rights of Whitehall.

‘Our system of public finance and accountability is the envy of the world and this bill goes to its heart. The Bill does nothing to strengthen parliaments democratic position. It does not even seek to reverse the erosion that has taken place over decades; as such it misses a unique opportunity to reform and modernise the accountability of government to parliament’.

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