Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 20 - 39)



  20. You just ask for their money, do you not?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think there are any free gifts that come with paying your income tax.

  21. Is there a possibility at that point when you are asking folk for money that there could be perhaps a greater explanation of where the money is going within Government?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is a table of where taxpayers' money is spent.

  22. Do we send that when we send out the actual tax demand?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We do not, no.

  23. We are sending a piece of paper to virtually everybody because we are virtually all paying tax, but is there not perhaps an opportunity to get some of this information across at the same time in the way that I think you require local authorities to do when they are asking for council tax? You have got to do the piece of paper anyway, why not actually soften the blow slightly so that people know where their money is going?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think there is merit in that suggestion and it is worth looking at. There would be those who would say, if you did that, "that is the Government trying to use the Inland Revenue as a means of pushing Government propaganda", but there is a lot in what you say.

  24. It could be there are those who would argue that it would be the beginning of trying to restore some confidence that what you raise actually goes to something and people being able to understand the relationship between the two.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not dissent from that.

  25. That is good. If you like that idea, here is another one. It has always struck me as odd that Governments have done the Annual Report but we as elected politicians get elected and, frankly, we can disappear for four or five years. When I made my Maiden Speech I suggested that MPs should be required by law to produce annual reports themselves so that we are seen to be accountable. I got lots of laughter and lots of "That is a silly idea. When you grow up, when you have been here a bit longer you will realise just how impossible that would be". I have done it and others are starting to do it now. Do you think that it should be a statutory requirement as a basic principle that if they do nothing else MPs should perhaps produce an annual report setting out what they have been doing, and should it be funded?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think it would be appropriate for me to comment on that. I think the Government should definitely produce an Annual Report and I think each Department should produce an Annual Report. I think it is for each individual MP to decide how he is accountable to his electorate. I do not think it would be right for me to comment on whether or not statute should impose a requirement on MPs to actually be accountable in a particular way. I could see difficulties in imposing such a statutory requirement because the major accountability for MPs is the fact that if what they do does not find favour with their electorate then there is an opportunity to change the MP at the next election.


  26. Or the Government.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Or the Government, exactly.

Mr Oaten

  27. You have accepted the principle of doing something each year to be seen to be more accountable, four years is quite a long period.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The Government is right to have undertaken that burden and to have indicated this Government will accept it as long as they are a government. There are totally different issues, it seems to me, arising in relation to MPs.

  28. Do you quite like it as an idea, or not really?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think it would be right for me to comment.

  29. I am going to get to the picky points, there are going to be even more now, why do we have to have ten different versions of the front cover, it must have cost an awful lot of money?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We think it is incredibly important to try and engage the public in what is going on and what the Government is doing. Having ten covers, which did make it more expensive, was, rightly or wrongly, thought to be a way to make it more attractive to the people who saw it.

  30. How would they know which cover they were missing out on?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Some of them focused on particular services, education, health, crime fighting and different sorts of particular activity.

  31. It looks like ten different people to me. If that was successful then I assume there would have been lots of people who filled in the feedback form. What percentage of people who got it filled that in?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Can I get somebody to find me the figure and come back on that one.

  Mr Oaten: That is enough, I have been picky enough.

Mr White

  32. Can I take you back to the timing of the Annual Report. If you are in business you produce an annual report to tie in with your AGM and your annual accounts, why is it not linked into the budget process or the CSR process?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because this is a report of what the government as a whole does. It is much more, as it were, performance and delivery orientated than simply an account of what we intend to spend, which is what either the Spending Round or the Budget is about. The reason it is in July is because as it happened we became the Government in May of a particular year, we did not have one in the first year, we had one in the second year and we had that at the end of the summer term, that is a time, as you know, that lots of sessions, school being the obvious one, come to an end and it seemed to be a convenient and sensible time to do it.

  33. It comes back to the point that the Report is divorced from the spending, the point that Mark Oaten has made on the Council Tax, when you send out the Report of what Council Tax does it is very much more linked back to what people are paying for.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is not divorced from it but it is describing what is being done. It is a descriptive process rather than simply identifying what your plans are in relation to expenditure. I think it would be a mistake to publish it at the same time as the budget because it would get completely lost in the budget or the Spending Review process. The Spending Review process only takes place once every two or three years, so that would not be enough, and if it happened at the time of the budget it would get completely lost.

  34. You talked about each department having its own departmental report and the business plans that each department has, could you explain how the different reports link together?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They do not link together at the moment. What the departmental reports do is they tend to contain quite a lot of statistics about each individual department. They will not have as much prose, as this will, as a proportion of what they say and it is basically a list of statistics relevant to each individual department.

  35. You will know we have just done a report on modernising government and looking at how well the White Paper of two years ago was carried out. One of the things in that was there were a lot of target measures and a lot of aspirations, again if you look at the Annual Report, tying those aspirations to what the Government has actually achieved, it is quite hard to tie the two together?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think in the next report that we do I think we need to identify a number of important targets, the PSA process, for example, and refer to them in the report. We obviously learn from each one that we do. There is not enough in the report of actually identifying what those targets are and how they connect in with the priorities of the Government and what progress has been made in relation to them. All of the information that is available is published, but it would be of value to bring it together because then there would be a bit more meat in the report.

  36. The other point is that the report is very much a view from Whitehall—
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  37.—rather than necessarily reflecting how much more complex government as a whole it is, given the devolved administrations, given the role of regional offices and given the role of Europe, but the Annual Report is still very much a Whitehall view.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think that it is fair to say it is a "Whitehall view". A lot of the prose was about the experience of people on the ground. I open it entirely at random, these two pages are devoted to the perspective of a doctor in Norfolk as to what the Government has done. It does not purport to set out what the devolved administrations have been doing in any detail, because they produce their own account of what they have been doing. It does refer to Europe. Ultimately you have to choose what you think are the five or six areas of activities which are the most important, and that is what the Report has done.

  38. The point I am trying to get to is it is very much a view from the Government to the citizen rather than the citizen actually—
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I contest that. I think if you look at the content of it, it is giving the perspective of people on the ground. The vast majority of the pages of this report are about what people's perspective is from, as it were, living the life of the citizen rather than being a person in Whitehall. Another page at random describes the perspective of a Manchester Metrolink tram driver.

  39. How do you go about selecting those people?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Research throughout the country sought to try and identify people who would emblemise what the message you were trying to get across was, what you were trying to describe and who would be good at doing that.

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