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."
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 1861 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. 31 March 1862.
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.
Notable failures highlighted by the Public Accounts Committee
The Public Accounts Committee has criticised the expenditure on numerous government projects over the years, such as:
- the NHS National Programme for IT, which was described as one of the worst fiascos ever in the history of public sector contracts.
- the decommissioning of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing site, noting the cost of decommissioning had now reached £67.5 billion, and there was "no indication of when that cost will stop rising".
Chairs of the Public Accounts Committee (1861–present)
House of Commons standing orders give the opposition party the right to chair the committee
The PAC is concerned that central government funding cuts left many local authorities subject to “enormous pressure” and “in a worrying financial position”.
- National Audit Office History of the National Audit Office, Accessed 25 September 2012
- "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.
- "Membership - Public Accounts Committee". UK Parliament. Archived from the original on 18 November 2017. Retrieved 18 November 2017.
- Standing Order 122B(8(f)) https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmstords/0002/so-2.pdf
- English councils brace for biggest government cuts since 2010 despite 'unprecedented' budget pressures The Independent
- 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.