Government warned on accountability in Whitehall

THE GOVERNMENT has been warned of growing concerns that the role of Whitehall accounting officers could be undermined by coming reforms.

The alert comes from the Commons public accounts committee (PAC) which has revealed worries about appointing ministers to the chairmanship of boards for Whitehall departments and the involvement of non executives.

Margaret Hodge (pictured), chairman of the PAC, said: “The personal accountability of the accounting officer, normally the Permanent Secretary in a Whitehall department, forms the foundation of Parliament’s ability to hold government to account for public spending.

“This must not be undermined by the new roles of either ministers of non executive directors.”

The PAC’s warning comes in a report responding to the government’s localism agenda. Among the conclusions are that the accountability plans supporting the localism policy are unclear and that information systems for accountability are an area systemic weakness.

The report also concludes that accountability for major projects must be made clear so that the right people can be held to account.

The are also concerns that the planned abolition of the Audit Commission may undermine efforts to hold public spending bodies to account. A further worry is that government reforms would create a multitude of new bodies to be held to account and that leaving it to Parliament would be impractical.

This week local government minister Grant Shapps said the abolition of the Audit Commission was “on-track”.

Related reading