DEPARTMENTAL REPORTS REVIEW
The review has been steered by a high level
official group, including representatives from departments, the
National Audit Office, a communications expert, and the Clerk
to the Treasury Committee, Simon Patrick. It has considered the
purpose of and readership for departmental reports, their content,
and the timing of their publication.
The aim has been to recommend how the reports
can most effectively meet the needs of users by presenting the
right information in the most clear, coherent, efficient and timely
manner, whilst continuing to observe Parliamentary reporting obligations,
and the business needs of departments.
The review confirmed need, opportunity and desirability
for change from spring 2002 onwards. Its main recommendations
A single main report, accessible
to a public readership, should be published in April. It should
answer the basic questions about the department, its activities
and its management of public money; who we are, what we do, what
we spend money on, what we are trying to achieve and how we are
doing. In answering these questions it should set out objectives
and PSA targets and progress against them; and include summary
information on spending programmes. It should be physically published
and be available on the web.
Core financial tables currently in
the reports are too complicated to provide much useful information
to the average reader. Simplified tables should be included in
the main report with tables providing reconciliations and read
across to the Estimates published with the Estimates.
2. Estimates should not be included in departmental
reports and responsibility for publishing main and supplementary
Estimates should revert to the Treasury. Main Estimates should
continue to be published within 21 days of the Budget. The Treasury
will explore with Parliament the scope for electronic publication,
with each committee being provided with a hard copy of the Estimates
it is concerned with.
The audited resource accounts will
be published as soon as possible after the end of the financial
year, probably in the autumn. Treasury will look further at the
supporting commentary on operating and financial performance,
which is needed to provide context for the accounts.
Departments should also publish supplementary
performance information alongside the accounts, recording progress
against their PSA targets. This will update information published
in the annual report.
Departments should have greater flexibility
over the content and format of reports, within a framework of
common core requirements ensuring necessary consistency between
departments, continuity between years and objectivity in reporting
Where organisations have a statutory
or other obligation to produce an annual report at a specific
time we should avoid requiring them to duplicate material in a
separate departmental report.
In general smaller departments should
publish their own report unless they specifically wish to be brigaded
Main reports say enough about the
activities of small departments and agencies to give a clear picture
of the management of the programme the department is responsible
for. In particular, where small departments and agencies contribute
to achieving a PSA target, the main report should describe their
contribution. The Treasury will consult the Cabinet Office to
make sure this fits with the guidance on agency reporting.
The production of annual reports
should be integrated with the business planning process. Relaxation
of the publication deadline, of the rules about agency and small
department reporting and the autumn performance reports should
help this. The Treasury will consult the Cabinet Office to make
sure the guidance fits with their guidance on business planning.
Departments should come together
informally in a collaborative forum, to identify and share best
practice drawing on their own experience and examples outside
of central government.
A general principle throughout is
that Departments should not use any of these changes to withhold
information currently published in which there is public interest.
The aim is to get useful information in an accessible form to
the people who need it. In particular Parliament should have access
to all the information it has now.