The Public Accounts Committee wants government to learn from its mistakes
The input of cross-party MPs is crucial to the success of the PAC, and would be a hallmark of my tenure, writes Meg Hillier MP
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) plays a vital constitutional role in our political system – shining a light on how government spends our constituents’ taxes.
Set up by William Gladstone in 1861 the PAC examines the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of Government’s management of spending. I’ve had the privilege of chairing the committee since 2015 and am hoping to continue as chair this Parliament.
We cover a lot of ground. When the House is sitting we typically undertake two inquiries a week. In the past two and a half years the committee published 119 reports covering a wide range of subjects.
I have made it a hallmark of my time as chair to involve MPs from across the House and am heartened that even at times of political turmoil MPs can unite across party lines for a common cause. Our inquiries are often improved by the input of MPs raising with us the reality of how a government policy is working (or not) in their area.
Our role is not about challenging government policy directly but pressing the civil servants responsible for delivery and calling out failure. Part of our role is to encourage government to do better – any failure hits our constituents. Over the last four years I have improved follow through so that any civil servant appearing before us knows that he or she will be recalled as we monitor progress on projects for which they are responsible.
Crucially, we want government to learn from its mistakes, which can sometimes feel like pushing a boulder up a hill.
We shine a light into the darkest recesses of the state and work with our sister committees – where we see a delivery failure, they can challenge the policy behind it.
“Our role is not about challenging government policy directly but pressing the civil servants responsible for delivery and calling out failure”
The work of the Public Accounts Committee is never done. Our important constitutional position and our track record is part of our strength. And we are proud of the committee’s record of being tough on Government when things go wrong whichever party is in power. We stand up for the taxpayer and service user.
If I am returned to the role of Chair I want to quickly pick up where we left off at the general election. We need to keep a close eye on defence spending and project management, many projects under the Ministry of Justice including the latest probation reforms, spending and project management of HS2, changes to education funding, and we will be busy examining the cost and delivery of Brexit.
Every pound of public money saved is important. As the political class we need to prove our trustworthiness to the electorate. An effective, active and hard-working Public Accounts Committee is a vital part of our political process. Our job is to look beyond the headlines to cost and implementation, to hold departments and agencies’ feet to the fire to ensure our constituents – and taxpayers – get the value for money from Government they deserve.
Meg Hillier is Labour Coop MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch
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