Public Accounts Committee (United Kingdom)
The Committee of Public Accounts is a select committee of the British House of Commons. It is responsible for overseeing government expenditures, and to ensure they are effective and honest. The committee is seen as a crucial mechanism for ensuring transparency and accountability in government financial operations, having been described by Professor the Lord Hennessy as "the queen of the select committees...[which] by its very existence exert[s] a cleansing effect in all government departments."
This article needs to be updated. (March 2020)
The recommendation for the creation of a committee to oversee government accounts was first put forward in 1857 by a small group of interested Members of Parliament led by Sir Francis Baring. The structure and function of the PAC date back to reforms initiated by William Ewart Gladstone, when he was British Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1860s. The first Public Accounts Committee was established in 1862 by a resolution of the British House of Commons:
There shall be a standing committee designated "The Committee of Public Accounts"; for the examination of the Accounts showing the appropriation of sums granted by Parliament to meet the Public Expenditure, to consist of nine members, who shall be nominated at the commencement of every Session, and of whom five shall be a quorum.
The form has since been replicated in virtually all Commonwealth of Nations and many non-Commonwealth countries. A minister from Her Majesty's Treasury sits on the committee but, by convention, does not attend hearings. The Chair of the committee is always drawn from the main opposition party and is usually a former senior Minister.
The Exchequer and Audit Departments Act 1866 appointed The Committee of Public Accounts to oversee the work of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) The Committee continues to be assisted by the C&AG who is a permanent witness at its hearings, along with his staff of the National Audit Office, who provide briefings on each report and assist in the preparation of the Committee's own reports.
The Public Accounts Committee has criticised numerous aspects of government spending over the years, including:
- reductions in funding for local authorities, described in 2010 as leaving many of them "in a worrying financial position"
- the NHS National Programme for IT, which was described in 2013 as one of the worst fiascos ever in the history of public sector contracts
- the decommissioning of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing site, noting in 2013 that the cost had reached £67.5 billion, and there was "no indication of when that cost will stop rising"
- the "unimaginable" amount spent on the outsourced system for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing up to March 2021, with no clear evidence of overall effectiveness
House of Commons standing orders give the opposition party the right to chair the committee.
- "Holding Government to Account: 150 years of the Committee of Public Accounts" (PDF). UK Parliament. 2007.
- "Public Accounts—Committee Moved For". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). 166. House of Commons. 31 March 1862. col. 329–330.
- National Audit Office History of the National Audit Office, Accessed 25 September 2012
- Kentish, Benjamin (3 July 2018). "Government 'complacency' putting local councils at risk of bankruptcy, MPs warn". The Independent. Retrieved 19 March 2021.
- "NHS IT system one of 'worst fiascos ever', say MPs". BBC News. 18 September 2013. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
- "Sellafield clean-up cost reaches 67.5bn, says report". BBC. 4 February 2013. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
- "UK lawmakers criticise management of Sellafield nuclear site". Reuters. 11 February 2014. Retrieved 12 February 2014.
- "Covid-19: NHS Test and Trace 'no clear impact' despite £37bn budget". BBC News. 10 March 2021. Retrieved 19 March 2021.
- ""Unimaginable" cost of Test & Trace failed to deliver central promise of averting another lockdown". UK Parliament. 10 March 2021. Retrieved 19 March 2021.
- "Public Accounts Committee - Membership - Committees - UK Parliament". committees.parliament.uk. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
- Standing Order 122B(8(f)) https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmstords/0002/so-2.pdf
- David McGee, The Overseers – Public Accounts Committees and Public Spending, Pluto Press, London 2002.
- Stapenhurst, Rick; Sahgal, Vinod; Woodley, William; Pelizzo, Riccardo; World Bank, 1 May 2005, Policy Research Working Paper WPS3613, Scrutinizing public expenditures: assessing the performance of public accounts committees
- Pelizzo, Riccardo, Stapenhurst, Rick, Saghal, Vinod and William Woodley, What Makes Public Accounts Committees Work?, Politics and Policy, vol. 34, n. 4, December 2006. pp. 774–793.
- Riccardo Pelizzo and Rick Stapenhurst, Strengthening Public Accounts Committees by Targeting Regional and Country Specific Weaknesses, in Anwar Shah (ed.), Performance Accountability and Combating Corruption, Washington DC, The World Bank, 2007, pp. 379–393.
- Jacobs, K. 1997. ‘A reforming accountability’, International Journal of Health Planning and Management 12: 169–85.
- Jacobs, K.1998. ‘Value for money auditing in New Zealand: competing for control in the public sector’, British Accounting Review 30: 343–360
- Jones, C. 1987. ‘The Origins of the Victorian Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee’, MA, University of Melbourne.