TUESDAY 15 JANUARY 2002
Mr John McFall, in the Chair
Examination of Witnesses
RT HON ANDREW SMITH, a Member of the House, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and MR ADAM SHARPLES, Director, Expenditure Policy, examined.
(Mr Smith) As I set out in my letter to the then Chairman of the Committee in October 2000, with this being quite a major change we thought it sensible, notwithstanding the previous memorandum, to conduct a review to take stock to see if this really was the best way of proceeding and, of course, to consult as part of that. We did endeavour, as you know, to seek the views of this Committee, and that letter was copied to the Public Accounts and Procedure Committees. As you said, there was a delay, a general election has intervened. I do not think anyone would have foreseen in the autumn of 2000 that half of last year the select committee would not be meeting. Nonetheless, as Adam Sharples reported at your last hearing, the Review Group was constituted to reflect relevant interests, and surveys to users were issued. As I wrote to you this last October, I am very concerned that whilst this year's inevitably in the circumstances would be something of a sort of interim format for the reporting but that there would now be, albeit a somewhat iterative, an opportunity for this Committee and for Parliament to influence the way in which the departmental reports are presented this year and to take full stock of the situation in the light of those reports. Might I also add, Chairman, whilst I acknowledge that as things have turned out, neither the timing of the handling of these changes nor the involvement of Parliament has been quite as I would have wished and, therefore, I am sorry that we must regard, as I just explained, this in some sense as an interim position. Can I also say that faced with the situation as it was last Autumn I believe the decisions I have taken are the right ones and that the proposed shape of this year's report will actually serve Parliament and parliamentary accountability better than had I sought to implement the original RAB proposals or indeed repeat last year's format. Can I just mention the three key reasons why I take that view, first, having commissioned a review I think it would have been foolish of me not take notice of it. Secondly, under the original RAB proposals I think Parliament would have been deprived of performance information or could have been deprived of performance information for an unacceptably long period, which especially the public and Parliamentary focus on performance we would have been understandably criticised for. People would have said, we are accustomed to seeing performance information in the Spring Report, now we are not getting it, why not, are we going to have to wait months in order to get it? The third reason is that having had drawn to my attention the inadequacies and errors which resulted from physically accommodating the estimates in the departmental reports last year, not a single estimate free of error, and not meeting, for the most part, the 21 day reporting requirement to Parliament, and those are serious matters of Parliamentary accountability, having had that drawn to my attention and having had the recommendations of the Review Group on that that it was right for me to act accordingly.
(Mr Smith) As I have already acknowledged, the consultation with Parliament is incomplete and will be so until this Committee has had the opportunity of reporting and others in Parliament have had an opportunity to comment about it, notwithstanding the efforts which I have said that we made. I think it certainly was acknowledged in the Review, obviously, that Parliament and MPs and select committees, perhaps, in particular are a prime audience for these reports, but we should also not forget the wider function of public accountability they fulfil. They are documents of wider record, they are used by researchers, academics, journalists and by some members of the general public.
(Mr Smith) A good value message, Chairman. I accept that that is lot of money and some of the other charges are a lot as well. Obviously I have looked into this and I understand that the pricing is simply in order to cover, if you like, the marginal cost of production, it is influenced obviously by print runs, graphics, especially last minute printer's changes. In that sense the costs do not reflect the full cost of producing these reports. I would add, of course, that electronic publication also makes them very much more widely accessible at a much lower cost.
(Mr Smith) I asked about that as well, Chairman, and I was told the reason was the difference in the number of late changes that had to be made, which is something that we will try and minimise in the future.
(Mr Smith) It is the answer. How far we want to adopt a different basis for pricing these reports, how far the Committee believes they should be further subsidised, I can see the case for that in terms of accessibility, which is something that we take very seriously.
(Mr Smith) They are not as accessible or as clear as they might be nor as accessible or as clear as, in my view, they should be nor as accessible and clear, in my view, they will be if we adopt the revised format. They are very long, especially with the integration of main estimates with them. There are a very large number of tables. As I think Adam Sharples pointed out at your last hearing, there is pretty straightforward information which MPs and certainly members of the public would expect to get out of these reports which is not there or is not very accessible. In the Home Office Report, how much is spent on the police, there are pages and pages of tables and information but that is not one figure that is readily accessible. I believe that with the format that we are proposing will set out straightforward things. If you look at the DFES report you will be able to see how much is spent on primary schools, how much on secondary schools and how much on higher education, again information which is not as readily accessible in the present report as it might be. At the same time those who have an interest in the wider financial information, the detail of the estimates and how they reconcile to the RAB counts, they will be able to find that as well. It is important in the new format that the read across from one table to another, one report to another sub report, that that is clear and, obviously, I endeavour to make sure that is the case.
(Mr Smith) I would hope that more people would find them accessible and the word would go round that they were worth reading.
(Mr Smith) We will have to be judged by experience about that.
(Mr Smith) I agree that the prime audience is a relatively narrow one. I would have thought, frankly, it is important for that audience that this information is in as clear and accessible form as possible so that they do not spend an awful lot of time trying to find out how much is spent on the police or how you add together the different components and bring together primary education, it will make Members of Parliament, select committees and journalists jobs easier as well. Obviously the public's interpretation of this, far and away, is most likely not to go to the primary source but to rely on press reports.
(Mr Smith) I am resisting any temptation to say that the much needed and, I am sure, the attractive and informative and clear representation of these reports is going to result in an instant increase in sales.
(Mr Smith) It was evident from the survey of users that we conducted that a significant proportion did not find them clear or accessible and many found them inordinately long.
(Mr Sharples) If I can quote one figure on that, as you know we asked all the select committee clerks for their views on the reports, only one of the nine committee clerks who replied regarded the current reports as clear and easy to use. Obviously that was something which weighed with us.
(Mr Smith) We did take views from departments and equally they did not find the format that was used last year as clear or accessible as they would like it to be.
(Mr Smith) I understand the reason for the suspicion and possibly even some cynicism about it. I would seek to dispel it, first of all, by stressing we do take seriously, and I do take seriously, the importance of these documents and records and accountability to Parliament. We have made it clear that the alteration in the format and the presentation is not to deny Parliament information, indeed all of the information that was available in last year's report will be available in the new style reports. What is more with the supplemental autumn information on the performance there will actually be extra updated information that was not available previously. Moreover, Adam Sharples, as he said in his testimony to the Committee, was emphatic that it is the explanation of what is in the reports about which departments want greater flexibility and not the content.
(Mr Smith) Yes. The guidance that was circulated made clear, for example, that performance against hearsay targets must be full and should be objectively presented, and I will be keeping an eye on that.
(Mr Smith) I take your point about the ready availability of the electronic form, the web based reports, especially to specialist readership. I think to deny the opportunity for somebody to have a departmental report physically in their hand, be they an MP, be they a researcher or be they a member of the public, there will be some of them who do not have ready access to the web or do not like accessing information in that way. I think it would be a serious step to say you have to have the core information in an electronic form. This is something that we can review with the passage of time, with the take-up and with the ways in which people access this information. I do not think now is the right time to move towards the abandoning of physical records of departments for activities, performance and financial information.
(Mr Smith) I would be very happy to do that. DTI has monitored this.
(Mr Sharples) It was 1,000 hits a month.
(Mr Smith) Yes.
(Mr Smith) I am sure, because MPs, select committees, commentators in the area expect and, indeed, have a right to the sort of information that is in departmental reports. The fact that they do not have a huge readership is not a reason in principle for not producing it nor, indeed, is it a reason for not trying to make the information clearer and more accessible, indeed it is a reason for trying make it clearer and more accessible. Certain sorts of straightforward questions about expenditure and performance, of which I gave examples earlier, can be accessed.
(Mr Smith) Of course as far as performance is concerned the framework we are suggesting will provide a six monthly update both on the web and in written form. It would be possible and I would be quite happy to explore how far one can go further than that. I think there is just one qualification I would make, I think that there has to be an authoritative record so that researchers and others can compare like with like and not get the impression that the information is changing so fast that you are never quite sure what you are comparing today's performance with. The only other thing is I would say that more can be done to make this information usable and helpful to be used by links, perhaps, to comparative information in future years, and so on. Certainly we are encouraging departments to illustrate their reports in a way which makes them helpful electronically as well as wanting to improve the formula.
(Mr Smith) No. If you look at the annex to the guidance to Parliament, which I believe has been circulated to the Committee, there is a diagram there where you can see, this is the diagram that I am referring to, and the core report is smaller, but it is clearer and contains the information that readers, as a whole, are going to want to have. As I said, expenditure on things like education, how much on primary schools, how much on secondary, how much on higher education, both in the resource and in the capital, they are basic reports on performance. You then have the estimate produced separately and then supplementary budgetary information. The diagram attempts to set out how the different components of what are in the reports and estimates at the moment are reflected in the new format. As I explained earlier, with the suggestion of the autumn performance information there will be some extra information coming forward meeting Mr Palmer's desire for a six monthly update.
(Mr Smith) Yes.
(Mr Smith) Let me be clear.
(Mr Smith) In referring to the annex to the guidance what I am pointing out is that the main departmental report, yes, it is more focussed, yes it is slimmed down. What I am saying is the information which was otherwise in the departmental report last year will appear either in the estimates, which will be a separate document, but we can produce and present it alongside for Parliament, if that is what the Committee wants, and there will be also be supplementary budgetary information which is not going to those lay readers but, nonetheless, is important to specialists and is a document of record.
(Mr Smith) Yes.
(Mr Smith) Things like the estimates, yes.
(Mr Smith) Reduced from 12 tables to six tables.
(Mr Smith) I do not think it will be. First of all, if you are talking about previous years and previous governments it was the practice in the past, of course, for the estimates to be published separately in any event. As I said earlier on in my answers, I think it is very important, indeed, to have the ability to read across from one table in one publication say to the estimates or to the supplementary budgetary information so that is a clear avenue for the people who want to undertake those comparisons. I do actually see some advantages in the estimates in written form being physically separate. We have all had the experience of thumbing through a very thick volume and trying to compare one table in one part of the report with a table in another part and you can actually physically put the tables along side each other to check the reconciliation. I do take seriously the comments that were made when Adam Sharples was in front of the Committee last time and members were making the point that it is very useful to have these documents alongside one another. Depending on the Committee's views I am very willing to do what we can in actually publishing the information to Parliament physically by ring-binder, or whatever, to have the estimates alongside the departmental reports if that is what the Committee feels would be most helpful for MPs.
(Mr Smith) No.
(Mr Smith) Yes.
(Mr Smith) Which am I?
(Mr Smith) I published the thing so I am the expert reader.
(Mr Smith) I do read through them all, yes.
(Mr Smith) I think there is a danger and that is why it is important that where there is a read across to other documents, that is clearly spelt out. Let us not lose sight either of the gain that there will be with a clear focus on the information which most readers are most interested in, which is basically where their money is going, what they are getting for it and how departments are performing. I sincerely believe that that will emerge more clearly from the reports representing this year. Of course the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. You and other committees and other members will look at them. Indeed, were it helpful to the Committee for the Treasury, or us jointly with the select committee, to survey MPs of what they thought of the departmental reports, what format they wanted them and what they thought of the revised presentation I would be very happy to do that.
(Mr Smith) I think it is very difficult to make such estimates, either on the cost of the production of the reports as they were last year or, indeed, exactly what it would be under the new proposals. The reason for that, of course, is you have some people who are working largely or solely on the departmental report and, yes, you could allocate their salary to the cost. Obviously as is reflected in the cover price, you can have the costs of printing and layout and graphics. In practice when a report is produced it is drawing on the resources very extensively of the department, of the accounting officers and also policy officers. I suppose one could go through and try and estimate what the cost would be, and that in itself would not be an uncostly exercise.
(Mr Smith) Yes.
(Mr Smith) Yes.
(Mr Smith) As clearly as possible, in other words target by target what the progress is. We will have the dual aspect this year, of course, of the Comprehensive Spending Review PSA targets, of which we are at the third year, plus year one of the Spending Review 2000 and targets. Again, the guidance to departments says departments must make clear in the case of the 1998 CSR targets what the progress has been against them, if ones have been consolidated into a Spending Review 2000 target how that has been done and if any have been dropped which they are and why.
(Mr Smith) I would not go so far as to say completely harmonised, I am not quite sure what that would mean. That each report must enable the reader very clearly to see what progress is against targets to make comparisons is one of the objectives. Indeed the guidance specifically says that if a department in its report wants to report targets in different sections, you can imagine if you are organising a report by functions of a department it might not be a bad idea to do that but there should be, separately, a consolidated table that brings the targets together to ease precisely the sort of comparison we are seeking.
(Mr Smith) Yes.
(Mr Smith) Certainly I will give consideration to that. I can see the case.
(Mr Sharples) Perhaps I could add on PSA reporting that departmental reports published over the last two years have included such a table at the beginning of the report reporting against each target. What we want to do is try and build on that by improving the reporting and, as the Chief Secretary says, if departments are to decide to publish details of performance against targets in each chapter of the report, for example, certainly they should include a summary table at the end. You will have seen from the guidance that we have issued to departments that we have given a very strong steer that reporting must be objective reporting on progress and that departments should think about how they can use graphics, for example, using graphs to demonstrate the trends against the target. We do feel that the new approach as well as giving twice yearly reports on performance, whereas in the past we only had once a year reports on performance, will also give better presented reports on performance as well.
(Mr Smith) First of all, key core financial information is brought together in standardised tables, that is an area where the department does not have discretion. Equally, as we have said, they have got to report comprehensively and objectively on their performance against the PSAs and we have suggested that it is consolidated in a table if they have decided to separate it out. So those key bits of information will be available on a standard basis to the reader of cross reports.
(Mr Smith) Yes.
(Mr Smith) Yes.
(Mr Smith) I do not think you can expect a departmental report to anticipate every contingency that is going to arise, even some serious ones. They do set out departments' plans but in the best world plans do not always correspond to exactly what takes place. When it comes to evaluating risk I would expect if particular projects or particular programmes had a particular element of risk that would be an appropriate thing for attention to be drawn to, not simply in main departmental reports but within the overall body of information that we are talking about, part of which, of course, are the departmental investment strategies.
(Mr Smith) I think there is a balance to be struck between the accurate reporting of plans and programmes and what could be taken to veer into the area of speculation. I do not think committees or Parliament would thank departments for reporting things which were speculative.
(Mr Smith) Okay. They will both be providing information showing the latest progress against PSA targets and in that sense there is a real addition in the information which is being provided to Parliament. One particular frustration which there has been in the Spring Reports - and this was evident last year - is when departments are reporting, and their report has been prepared before the end of the year on which the performance is being reported, you do not have the fourth quarter information usually, for example. Therefore if you want to take the performance reporting as covering the year that is being reported on, there is an element of estimating whereas what should be available in the autumn will enable you to compare what was set out in the report in the spring with what actually happened. I think that is a gain. The other stimulus, if you recall, from the RAB reforms to performance information being reported in the autumn is that one of the principles of RAB reporting is the allocation of expenditure by objectives and being able to see an outturn. Now it will be good when we are able to have the resource accounts alongside the supplementary autumn information, that is certainly the objective we want to work towards. When I said earlier that had we left the original RAB recommendations in place Parliament could have gone an unacceptably long time without performance information, what I was referring to was the fact that under the original RAB proposals, the Spring Report was just going to be forward looking and it was the Autumn Report which was going to report performance. Well, of course, if you delay that autumn performance information until the resource accounts themselves are available, which might not be until early in the following year, you could go a very long time without performance information being reported to Parliament. Just to be clear, what I am suggesting is this autumn performance information, whilst we want to have it alongside the resource accounts, I think we should do that by trying to bring the resource accounts forward rather than delaying the performance information. Where there is a gap we will give the performance information.
(Mr Smith) On the latest information.
(Mr Smith) Certainly the latest information on the performance measures, and obviously setting out the current year estimates as well as the plan for the future year.
(Mr Smith) Provisionally I think is the right answer to that and you will know definitely with the Public Expenditure Outturn White Paper but I will ask Adam if that is broadly correct?
(Mr Sharples) That is right. We publish in July the Public Expenditure Outturn White Paper which gives the best estimate of what the outturn is for the previous financial year. The departmental report will be published in April which will give the best estimate at that point. There may be some further information coming through between April and July.
(Mr Smith) Not quite, no, it is adding later performance information.
(Mr Smith) Yes.
(Mr Smith) We will have the resource accounts. We want to have them in the autumn. I have to say it has proved harder to get them as early as we would have liked and we are still working on it.
(Mr Smith) You have got an estimate of the current year and as Adam Sharples said earlier then in the July Public Expenditure Outturn White Paper you have got more final figures. Those figures themselves, of course, can be subject to later revision. It is a definitive record.
(Mr Sharples) The Spring Reports will include the budget figures for the previous financial year, so the best estimate available at the time of the outturn against those budgets for that financial year. The point about the performance reporting that I would emphasise is that the focus of performance reporting is the Public Service Agreement targets. The broad principle that we try and follow is that whenever we report on progress against PSA targets we give the latest available information, now in the case of exam results it might be the results from the previous summer, in the case of crime surveys they might be done every two years. Some information is available more frequently but at the point the report is published we would give the latest available information. The other significant point is that most PSA targets do not depend on financial year information for their reporting. So, it is perhaps a bit of a misunderstanding to imagine that there will be a strong link between the outcome on the finance side for a financial year and the performance for that financial year because the PSA target will be often working on a different cycle to the financial year cycle.
(Mr Smith) Yes, that will broadly be the case.
(Mr Smith) Yes, but of course if you are linking it with performance, the performance even on the delivery of a capital programme obviously is not an end in itself. The end in itself is the health service or the education or transport services which are provided.
(Mr Smith) Yes.
(Mr Smith) Yes.
(Mr Smith) That is why I said earlier that where we can publish the performance information alongside the resource accounts, clearly it is desirable to do so but the view I have come to is it would be a mistake to delay the performance information to await the resource accounts. Meanwhile we and all the other parties involved need to work to get more of the resource accounts available by November.
(Mr Smith) Do you mean what we have just been discussing, the resource accounts not coming forward as early in the year as we would like?
(Mr Smith) I do not think this timeliness of accounts problem has been unique to resource accounting, I think we have not had the cash accounts as early as we might have liked either. Obviously changing to a new system does involve a process of education and training. No, I think it just is that we have got to do more to examine best practice of those departments that are able to get it in a timely fashion and work with the National Audit Office and others to make sure that we do better.
(Mr Smith) First of all, of course, the example which Mr Cousins gave did include one where punctuality was disappointing, I think was the phrase he used. So it is not like a positive spin was being put on everything even in that report.
(Mr Smith) We have supplied already to the Committee the guidance which we put out. We have not only set out there the financial information which is required in the tabular form it is to take, the PSA information and progress which is required to be reported objectively and, of course, as the reports come in officials and ultimately I have the responsibility of clearing that presentation jointly with the department concerned.
(Mr Smith) Let us remember that a substantial proportion of the information which is in the reports in fact already meets the criteria which you have set out because the information is national statistics information or because it is audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and certainly, as I have said, Treasury officials are involved in putting this together. On the broader question of external validation of performance, that is something, of course, which the Sharman Review examined and I hope to be in a position to report the Government's response to the Sharman Review quite soon.
(Mr Smith) Something like macro economic stability is very objectively measured actually, it is not something you can fudge very well, as previous governments have discovered.
(Mr Sharples) I would add to that, the Government does publish for each of its targets a technical note which sets out in some detail precisely how that target will be measured. It is possible to track back to that.
(Mr Smith) I think there are powerful arguments for an element of external validation. As I say, these are matters we will be responding to in our response to the Sharman Report. There are other considerations as well though. Going back to when I was at the DFE, I was always struck when I was carrying forward the New Deal programme at the discontinuity between the management information that you needed to have to drive a programme forward, the information that a Job Centre manager needs to have on their desk to know what they need to do on a Monday morning for that week to make sure the programme was on track, and the information that you actually needed to satisfy national statistics and that was properly validated which inevitably came in some time later. If you try to deliver and guide the programme on the basis of the externally validated pukka statistics, it is a bit like driving a car on the basis of a film of where you were ten minutes ago. Let us remember that there are other requirements for information in departments if programmes are to be successfully delivered. As far as possible, of course, it is good if you can get a correspondence between the management information that you need to make a success of programmes and the information which it is useful to report to Parliament and to the public on progress. In some cases that is the case but in others, for reasons of timeliness and the means by which information has to be gathered, it is not so readily achievable. I think there is a balance to be struck there but I do appreciate the importance of the objectivity and public confidence in the performance measures they are using.
(Mr Smith) Not simply the PIU Reports, of course. One of the things which departments are specifically asked to include in their reports are points taking up observations and recommendations which the National Audit Office has made. Certainly there would be a case for them covering issues which have been raised by the PIU or other units and I will reflect further how that might be done. You actually allude to another important area that it can be a bit tricky to get right and that is how cross-departmental initiatives are properly reflected in departmental reports. As you will have seen from the notes of guidance that we circulated to the Committee, there is provision for how this should be done in the accounts. We do need to make sure that there are clear accounts of progress on departmental initiatives in the departmental reports as well.
(Mr Smith) No.
(Mr Smith) This is one of the issues over which departments do not have discretion. In the information we have supplied to the Committee you can see there the tables which would be required of the main departmental report, which tables will go into the estimates and which tables will go into the supplementary budgetary information. Those tables follow a common prescribed format and will be available, therefore, on a consistent basis.
(Mr Smith) In this proposal, yes, and in the guidance we have given. One thing I would say is that mindful, as I said earlier, of the incompleteness of consultation with Parliament on this, obviously if this Select Committee or others have got particular views about this, either in advance of the presentation of this year's reports or in the light of the experience of this year's reports, then I am very concerned that we take this on board, I am very mindful that these reports are not simply the property of Government or the Treasury, they are the property of Parliament and the public as well.
(Mr Smith) Was the Office consulted or represented on the review group?
(Mr Sharples) No, the Office of National Statistics was not consulted as part of that process. These tables are essentially concerned with budgeting information which is not part of the national statistics.
(Mr Sharples) The National Audit Office was part of the group and, in fact, we had a representative from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. We did seek to gather views. The point I would emphasise about the core tables is that this is simply an issue of where the information is published, it is not a question of what information is published though some tables we think we can make clearer than they have been in the past, some tables have become redundant now that we have moved through the transitional phase. As the Chief Secretary says, the core tables we feel will give a much clearer statement than has been possible in the past of how each department is spending its money. Now the content of those tables is being discussed extensively with departments to make sure that we have a shared view of what is the clearest way of presenting the information but the sum total of the tables in the departmental reports in the Estimates and the supplementary budgetary information will cover all the information which was available previously.
(Mr Smith) To be clear, Mr Fallon, in answer to your question, the tables which are being included in the core report, they are set out here: the summary, the resource budgets, the capital budgets, the capital assets, the administration costs, the staff, these are surely the core tables which, alongside the progress on the Public Service Agreements, are what you would expect. As I say, if you have got observations as to what might be added to that or could be subtracted, I will pleased to hear them.
(Mr Sharples) What national statistics are primarily concerned about is the public expenditure totals on a national accounts basis which is something slightly different from the budgetary totals which are used for administrative purposes within Government. There are some transitional mechanisms needed to move from one system to the other system and those appear in the accounting adjustments that we publish.
(Mr Sharples) Not about the tables in the departmental reports, no. As I say, that is not something that the Office of National Statistics has a direct interest in.
(Mr Sharples) You are quite right, there has been a change. What you are quoting there is the old proposal that we should move to split reporting with a forward looking report in the spring and a backward looking report in the autumn. That was the old proposal. What is being proposed now is that we have a comprehensive report in the spring which looks forward and sets out forward budgets and forward targets but also sets that in the context of performance so far. So it is both forward looking and backward looking. The argument put forward is that having a comprehensive report will give readers a much better view of the departments' activities as a whole. What is proposed under the new proposals is that there should also be in the autumn a supplementary performance report. So we are not moving away completely from the idea of spring and autumn reporting; we are simply changing the emphasis a bit so that in the spring there is still a comprehensive report.
(Mr Smith) That is what I was referring to, Chairman, when I said earlier that had we stuck rigidly to the original RAB proposals there would have been what I think Parliament and the public would have found an unacceptable gap in reporting information because under the original RAB proposals there would have been no backward looking information in this coming Spring Report and if the autumn performance information was delayed to wait for the accounts, we might in the case of some departments have had a gap as long as from March 2001 through to February 2003, which I do not think people would put up with.
(Mr Smith) I will ask Adam to answer on whether the Treasury is aware that any department is not using the TSO but I will give a commitment that we will examine, in the event of any department doing so, what could be done to retain the boxed sets at a discounted price. I take your point.
(Mr Sharples) As far as I know, all departments have used The Stationery Office as their publishers for the 2001 reports and intend to do so for the 2002 reports. Some departments do use other printers but then pass it on to The Stationery Office to publish. We also attach great importance to the availability of a full set of reports at a discounted price so this is something that would concern us as well if some departments were moving away from that.
(Mr Smith) The smaller departments will be doing their own reports under the guidance of the parent department, if you like, which will include such information as is necessary and relevant to the fulfilment of their PSAs but not clutter up the report with superfluous information, if that information will be better in the agency's or small department's own report. I do not know the answer on the exact number but, obviously, I can let you have that.
(Mr Sharples) I do not think that we will be able to give an exact figure at this stage because discussions are still continuing between departments and the smaller departments in some cases.
(Mr Smith) Thank you very much for that, Chairman and I thank the Committee for its questions and deliberations. There is a further point I might ask you to reflect upon. I do appreciate that you are doing a wide-ranging inquiry and it will take time to conclude that. It is obviously a matter for you but you may want to look at the final shape that the reports take this forthcoming spring. I wonder if I might ask if on the basis of your deliberations so far there are any pressing observations you would like to make in relation to immediately forthcoming reports - and obviously they are going down the slipway and some changes can be made but some it will be harder to make - if we had some interim observations, obviously without prejudice to the final conclusions the Committee is going to come to, if you wanted to do that, we would be pleased to receive them, but it would need to be as soon as possible.
Chairman: We are conscious of time here and, indeed, we have discussed this issue and we plan an interim report in February. We will get that information to you and we are mindful of the comments you have made. Thank you very much for your evidence this afternoon.