The Tories released a new plan for 'disciplined spending in government' yesterday. It isn't exactly scintillating reading, but it does contain some good stuff. The main proposals are as follows:
- Senior civil servants will have a fiduciary duty to taxpayers
- Financial performance measures to be established for the civil service, with pay and recognition linked to these measures.
- Finance Directors will become the second most senior people in government departments, reporting to a central Office of Financial Management. (At the time of the last National Audit Office report, six departments with a combined budget of £45bn did not even have a Finance Director).
- Details of all items of public spending (over a certain level) to be published online.
I think the last point is the most important one: having to publish public spending online will make public (and parliamentary) scrutiny much easier and more effective, and give government departments a real incentive to avoid waste. At the moment, if you want to find out how your money is being spent, you're probably going to be reliant on parliamentary questions or Freedom of Information requests – a significant barrier to proper accountability.
The Conservatives' paper also contains one real gem, which pretty much sums up the mindset behind 'financial management' in the civil service:
The National School of Government teaches a course for civil servants involved in finance and accounting called Managing Public Money. The stated organisational benefits of the programme are:
- To avoid a Department being disadvantaged in the public expenditure process
- To protect the Accounting Officer’s position
There is no reference to the taxpayer or how to deliver value for money in the course objectives.
The NSG says “this well-established programme enjoys a prestigious reputation and provides the essential knowledge all finance staff need".'
Says it all, really.