Select Committee on Treasury Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Letters from Rt Hon Bruce George MP, Defence Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 12 December 2001 about the Treasury's review of the form of Departmental Reports. In the last Parliament the Defence Committee closely monitored the key documents of the departmental reporting cycle, and produced two reports (Second Report, 1999-2000, HC 158; and Eighth Report, 2000-01, HC 144). Although this Parliament we have been rather pre-occupied with a range of inquiries on the threat from terrorism, we have set ourselves the aim of continuing to cover the reporting documents. We had intended to examine the new Spring Report when it was planned to be introduced next year, and the revised proposals to make this the main reporting document will make our scrutiny even more important. Indeed, while it is probably too soon to judge whether the Treasury's revised proposals will be an improvement, the latest changes may at least make it easier to judge at what point in the year to produce our reports—up until now it as been difficult to gauge whether to report on the accountability cycle on the back of the Expenditure Plan/Estimates or after the MoD's Performance Report was published in the Autumn.

  Your letter asked about this year's Supplementary Estimates, whose publication is briefly under the control of departments rather than the Treasury. We did not receive a draft of the Winter Supplementary from the MoD. The MoD did not provide any additional information on the basis for the adjustments sought in the new Estimate, although an inspired PQ [HC Deb. 28 November 2001, c909w] allowed the Department to set out the major reasons for the changes (and some of this data was also included in the Introduction to the Supplementary—copy attached[1]). Ordinarily we would not be interested in the winter supplementaries for the simple reason that in recent years the MoD have used only the later Spring Supplementaries to adjust their budgets (usually to sweep up carry-over of over/under spending from the previous year, and additional funding for military operations such as those in Kosovo or Afghanistan). This year, however, the MoD has used the Winter Estimates to consolidate the carry-overs, and will use the Spring Estimates (they have confirmed) to fund the additional costs from operations in Afghanistan. My working assumption is that we would examine the Winter and Spring changes in financial provision when we tackle the new Departmental Plan (or "Spring Report") published next April.

14 January 2002

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