Select Committee on Public Accounts Second Report



31. In the light of the Comptroller and Auditor's General reports on the weaknesses in the Agency's financial management, we asked the Department about their oversight of the Agency. The Department accepted that this could have been more effective, and identified three areas where they could have been more proactive.[32]

32. First, they acknowledged that they should have been more rigorous in checking that recommendations made in the Committee's 1994 report were implemented. The need to collect and review receivers' accounts more promptly should have been covered by a Key Performance Indicator for the Agency, and the gaps in the underlying financial and accounting framework should have been addressed. The Agency confirmed that recommendations from the Committee's 1999 report had now been reflected in its Key Performance Indicators.[33]

33. Second, they should have thought more imaginatively about ways to address the problems of the Agency's fee structure. The Committee's 1994 report criticised the situation where private receivership fees subsidised Public Trustee receivership fees, and higher income clients subsidised lower income clients. Increasing fees was difficult because of the nature of the Agency's clients, but the Agency could only invest in better management if fees were increased. The Department suggested that they and the Agency should have been more active in seeking solutions to this problem.[34]

34. Third, the Department recognised that the Agency had been under-managed in terms of the range of senior skills and staff in the different areas of its activities. The Department had not made sufficient resources available to enable the Agency to invest in information technology.[35]


35. The Lord Chancellor's Department acknowledged that it should have done more to review the Agency's actions in response to our recommendations dating from 1994. The key performance indicator regime provides an opportunity for monitoring an Agency's actions, particularly on key aspects of service to the public. The Agency has confirmed that recommendations from our 1999 report are now reflected in its performance targets.

36. Parent departments should exercise effective oversight of the operations of their Agencies. Supervision of the Public Trust Office by the Lord Chancellor's Department should have been more rigorous. In particular the Department allowed the Agency to operate without an adequate range of senior management skills, and failed to make available sufficient resources for investment in information technology. The Department could have shown greater leadership in helping the Agency think more imaginatively about the management of its operations.

32  Evidence, Q8 Back

33  Evidence, Qs 8, 15, 20 Back

34  Evidence, Q8 Back

35  Evidence, Qs 4, 8  Back

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Prepared 31 January 2001