In a report published today, Thursday 25 July 2013, the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee calls on Government to produce a 5-year rolling Spending Review, aligned to the 5-year fixed term Parliament. Greater clarity on spending would reduce short-termism in policy planning and delivery.
Financial planning is the bedrock of long-term Departmental planning: the Committee says that without a clear indication of spending plans, short-termism in delivery and policy formulation is “bound to prevail”. A rolling 5-year Spending Review would enable Departments to plan as effectively as possible.
The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 has provided Departments with a clearer electoral timetable, which in turn facilitates greater certainty when it comes to planning. Echoing its recent report on Cabinet Reshuffles, the Committee says that such certainty can reduce potentially damaging and paralysing political speculation, allowing Ministers and officials to focus on delivery of policy rather than short-term survival. This move would also allow the Prime Minister to plan with more certainty and this should have beneficial consequences in reducing disruptive reshuffles.
The Committee recommends:
- The Government’s Spending Review be tied to the fixed term of a parliament
- A six-monthly review of the impact of the fixed term parliament in the UK by Departments’ Permanent Secretaries, to share best practice.
- Permanent Secretaries should identify areas of policy or planning where greater alignment with the fixed parliamentary term would be beneficial
- A “mid-fixed-term” conference to explore the opportunities and possibilities of longer-term planning
Graham Allen MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
“We are now halfway through our first fixed term Parliament here in the UK. It is early days, but it seems clear that more certainty about the date of the next general election facilitates better strategic, financial and, above all, legislative planning by Departments. We are keen that Departments maximise these benefits and share best practice with one another, and it seems the logical next step is to tie the financial planning that underpins policy to the fixed term.
“Uncertainty over term lengths and electoral dates can create damaging and distracting political speculation, in the same way as rumours of a Cabinet reshuffle can. We want our politicians - and civil servants – focussed on planning and delivery of good policy. Creating as much certainty and stability as possible must help with that.
“We appreciate that the impact of fixed terms is currently difficult to separate from the impact of Coalition Government. There may be further benefits to fixed terms under a single-party Government. However, there is still scope to monitor, evaluate and embed best practice into the departmental planning processes.”