Committee of Public Accounts Press Notice

Committee of Public Accounts recommendations on public services accepted by Government

The Government has now responded to a further seven reports recently issued by the Committee of Public Accounts . The Committee has secured these major improvements:

• The Department for Education and Skills has put in place arrangements to assess progress towards meeting the challenge of influencing and changing the eating habits of the 7.6 million pupils in 21,000 schools across England.

• The Ministry of Defence has taken steps to improve its approvals, scrutiny and assurance processes on major defence acquisitions, to reduce delays in the delivery of important military capability to the front line - delays which can cost lives as well as money.

• The Department of Health has acknowledged major shortcomings in the out-of-hours service in England, and is developing tools to help Primary Care Trusts improve performance measurement and value for money.

• Resources for low cost home ownership will be targeted on people in social housing, the majority of whom have been unable to afford the existing government schemes for home ownership;

• The Department of Health has strengthened the financial management and performance monitoring regime of NHS bodies and, in addition, removed the ‘double deficit’ regime to which NHS Trusts had been subject.

This information is contained in Treasury Minutes presented to Parliament on 23 May 2007 by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury.

Overall, 63 out of the 66 recommendations in the seven reports have been accepted by the Government.

The Government was responding to the following reports:

Smarter Food Procurement in the Public Sector
The Department for Education and Skills has put in place new arrangements to measure progress towards its goal of influencing and changing the eating habits of school pupils. These changes include the development of online tools to assess whether schools’ food meets the new nutritional standards; as well as carrying out regular reviews of the level of take-up amongst pupils. The Department for Education and Skills, the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency and the Ministry of Defence have each outlined programmes which aim to secure better value for money in respect of their expenditure on catering services. These changes come in response to a PAC recommendation that the public sector could, without affecting the quality of the food provided, save £220 million per year by 2010-11 for reinvestment in better training, facilities and ingredients.

Ministry of Defence - Delivering digital communications through the Bowman CIP Programme
The Ministry of Defence is introducing changes through its Defence Acquisition Change Programme to reduce delays to the delivery of capability to the front line. It is focusing on improvements to key areas such as programme leadership, speed of decision-making and through life-management. The changes come in response to the PAC’s investigation into the significant delays and cost overruns which occurred in the Department’s attempt to deliver a new digital communications system - the Bowman CIP programme - to the Armed Forces.

A foot on the ladder - Low cost home ownership assistance
The Government is following PAC advice by targeting low cost home ownership resources towards those in social housing. The PAC demonstrated that targeting this group is especially cost-effective as it frees up a social rent home at as little as half the cost to the taxpayer of building a new social rented property. The Department for Communities and Local Government is now working with the housing and finance sectors to develop ways of helping people on incomes below £30,000, the majority of whom have not been able to afford its existing schemes for home ownership.

Working with Non-Governmental and other Civil Society Organisations to promote development
In response to the PAC’s recommendations, the Department for International Development is making better assessments of the strength of civil society in developing countries, improving performance measurement and incentivising good performance by NGOs and Civil Society Organisations working to promote development. It is developing a new system for determining funding levels from April 2008, which more closely links funding of these organisations to their performance against objectives; and it has initiated discussions regarding a joint assessment framework with the World Bank and other key donors.

The provision of out-of-hours care in England
The Department of Health has acknowledged major shortcomings in out-of-hours services. It has committed itself to providing Primary Care Trusts with a clear sense of direction on the kind of service they should provide; as well as improving the framework for measuring how effective a service they are providing. The Department has already begun to develop benchmarking and clinical audit tools to help improve performance measurement and value for money.

The termination of the PFI contract for the National Physical Laboratory
The PAC reported on the termination of the PFI contract for the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) buildings when the contractor was unable to meet the demanding specification. Since this contract was signed, authorities placing PFI contracts have been issued with guidance on contracting and assessment. The guidance includes a new requirement to confirm the existence of a competitive market, following the PAC’s conclusion that the absence of competition in tendering the NPL contract was a significant contributing factor to the project’s subsequent problems.

Financial Management in the NHS
The Department of Health has strengthened the financial management and performance monitoring regime of NHS bodies, requiring all Strategic Health Authorities, Primary Care Trusts and NHS Trusts to profile their forecast financial performance on a monthly basis.

Following the PAC’s conclusion that the financial regime was not being applied consistently across the NHS, the Department has announced that NHS Trusts will no longer be subject to the carry forward rules which led to the ‘double deficit’ scenario. So NHS Trusts will no longer incur the double penalty for overspending where they both had their budgets cut for the next year and had to pay back the overspend.

Notes for Editors

1. For a list of all the recommendations and responses, the Treasury minute can be found at: http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm70/7077/7077.asp