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Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth): Is the hon. Gentleman saying that we often find not a lack of understanding, but a lack of skill to implement risk assessment and risk management across the Departments? We do not oppose risk, but we do oppose the inability to carry out a proper risk assessment and put in place adequate management strategies at the start of a project.
Mr. Leigh: That is absolutely clear and we shall continue our work on it. We believe that risk taking and innovation are wholly consistent with careful and proper control of public money. To follow on from that intervention, if Departments have sound control systems they are more likely to have the confidence to innovate, because they will be able to take account of adverse circumstances. In the game of politics, we all know that policies, Ministers and requirements change all the time. Risk management will become an integral part of how Departments operate. Their civil servants have the skills to identify and assess risks and take the action to manage them. Having the right skills to manage risky projects is a salient issue.
I want to make as an individual a point that I put to the Treasury permanent secretary. It is worth reminding the House that those in the highest echelons of the civil service have, without exception, a background in policy rather than project management. Perhaps for that reason, those people of honesty and integrity, who have brilliant minds, sometimes fail to get a grip on major projects. Time and again, they are called to our Committee to explain themselves.
No project directorno one who has ever attempted to run a Government projecthas ever become a permanent secretary in the history of the civil service. That says something about the culture, which needs to change. There is now a culture of delivery and the public expect first-rate public services across the nation. We expect our senior civil servants to have hands-on experience of how to deliver a successful project. We found that one project was run by seven people over its lifetime. Some lasted just a few months before being shuffled off to another part of the management structure.
Geraint Davies: Many people might find it unbelievable that no permanent secretary has run a project in his entire career. Can the hon. Gentleman explain what he means? Do not those who join the civil service run projects and work their way up or is he suggesting that all such people are parachuted in at senior level?
Mr. Leigh: No. Project director is a term of art and no person responsible over months and years for delivering a major IT project such as the benefit payment cardthe one in the hot seathas risen to the top of the civil service. I put that to Sir Andrew Turnbull, the Treasury permanent secretary, and he could not deny it. To be fair to him, and as he said, permanent secretaries need many other skills. They have to advise Ministers, which may require a particular ability that does not arise from running projects, but the civil service culture is changing and many people will expect a different type of person to rise to the top.
We welcome the Cabinet Office and Treasury initiatives to improve risk management by Departments, but they need to monitor how Departments implement their plans to ensure that they are underpinned by effective action to manage risks. I also welcome the decision that the public sector should apply the Turnbull requirements on corporate governance being adopted in the private sector. The Government must get to grips with finding ways to reward, encourage, promote and retain good project managers.
My final theme is accountability, which is vital. Last February, Lord Sharman published a valuable review of audit and accountability in central Government and the momentum behind his recommendations must not be lost. Opportunities for Parliament to consider and legislate on issues of financial accountability are few and far between. Believe it or not, the Government Resources and Accounts Act 2000 represents one of the few opportunities to do so since Gladstone's time. My predecessor and the Committee were disappointed that the Government did not take the opportunity to iron out anomalies in the financial accountability arrangements, although they were pleased to contribute to the Sharman review, which they established in response to our concerns.
The Sharman report made a series of welcome recommendations designed to strengthen central Government audit and accountability arrangements. The Committee endorsed that report in our sixth report in 2000-01. It recommended that, as a matter of principle, the Comptroller and Auditor General should audit all executive, non-departmental public bodies, that his access rights should be on a statutory basis, and that if a Department has a substantial stake or influence or if a company has a public interest role, he should be eligible for appointment as auditor of companies.
The report went on to recommend that external validation of performance information for central Government should be progressively developed. It also made a number of recommendations to bring central Government corporate governance arrangements into line with best practice in the private sector to address issues of audit burden and the effect of audit or risk taking, and to ensure that best use is made of audit work.
We are still waiting for the Government's response. The report was produced almost a year ago, and the Government have still to respond, but I think that they will fairly soon. The report covers important matters of direct concern to Members of the House, and further delay would be unacceptable. I know that the Treasury has been in close contact with the CAG and his team on the practical issues of implementation, and encouraging progress has been made. IfI use the word advisedlythe Sharman recommendations are implemented in full, that will be a significant step forward for accountability to Parliament.
Two issues may cause difficulty. In our report on the Sharman review, the Committee raised the issue of access to the civil list, which is the one area of royal spending outside our remit. Since 1988, the National Audit Office has had access to relevant information held by the royal household relating to the use made of the grants paid by Departments to meet the costs of royal travel and the royal
Two other bodies are currently outside the scope of our remit, the first of which is the BBC. It is essential and right that there should be improved accountability to Parliament for the funds spent by the BBC. The sums are large: some £2 billion each year. Believe it or not, Gavyn Davies, now the chairman of the BBC, recommended when he chaired the review on the future funding of the corporation that the CAG should have access to the BBC. That was before he became chairman. That is the same man who recommended that Parliament should have some access to the BBC. That view was supported by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport and by Lord Sharman.
All those parties failed to be convinced by the corporation's linein my view, it is a linethat parliamentary accountability would impair editorial independence. Examinations of the value that the BBC gets from the way in which it uses our money could be completely separate from editorial decisions. We would not get involved in who should be on programmes and who should run the corporation. We, on behalf of the people, merely want some idea of what the BBC is doing with £2 billion each year.
I should be pleased to hear from the Chief Secretary whether he has consulted the chairman of the BBC on this point. I know that the Financial Secretary will reply to the debate, but the Chief Secretary will be writing to me on this matter. Has Gavyn Davies changed his mind? Why should he change his mind?
A similar point was made in the 1960s about the CAG's access to universities. It was said that there would be difficulties with academic freedom and independence, but no one would now suggest that his involvement in that sector has compromised academic freedom. The NAO spends its time examining implementation of policy across government without the need to question the policies in the first instance.
If every family in the country is compelled to pay the licence feethey are not compelled, but we all know that they do soit is a poll tax by another name. I believe that that large sum of money should be subject to the same scrutiny as all other taxes, and we will pursue that point.
Geraint Davies: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is a discussion of the BBC's finances in order? I would welcome a report on the BBC, but we have not had one, and I do not think that we should discuss the matter. I bow to your wider wisdom, Mr. Deputy Speaker.