CALLING FOR MORE OPENNESS ON GOVERNMENT SPENDING
I am calling for more transparency in the UK Government’s major spending projects. The Public Accounts Committee, an influential cross-party committee of MPs, found that “time and time again” there were problems with “programmes not keeping to cost or schedule, a lack of transparency in their progress, and weaknesses in leadership and governance”.
The Committee, of which I am a member, has looked in detail at the way the UK Government has managed the delivery of major projects such as HS2 rail in England, the development of a new communications network for the emergency services, and the introduction of Universal Credit by the DWP. Although individual MPs have our own views as to whether some of these should ever have happened, the Committee’s role is to look at whether the Government has carried out its policies in a way that delivers good value for taxpayers’ money. It’s fair to say that on these and other major projects the same problems just kept coming up over and over again.
A particular concern for the Committee was the repeated failure to report these problems to Parliament. The Committee’s report said there was a “continued lack of transparency to Parliament about the progress of government projects” and went on “The Committee has examined many programmes where issues were emerging for some time that only became public knowledge much later”.
To give just one example, one of the first Public Accounts Committee meetings I attended we looked at the HS2 rail project. At the time it was already at least three years behind schedule and projected to be tens of billions of pounds over the original estimates. I found that four months after the Department for Transport had been told it would be almost impossible to deliver the first phase of the project on time, they told the Public Accounts Committee that the overall timetable hadn’t changed. Even worse, when the company set up by the Government to deliver HS2 published its annual report nearly another year later, they still gave the impression that everything was going to plan.
We’re elected as MPs on behalf of our constituents to hold the Government to account for the billions of pounds of public money they spend on these projects. It’s impossible for us to do that job if they hold back on telling us what’s really going on.
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “The government’s perennial inability to manage and deliver projects on time and budget must be addressed if the country is to safely navigate through to the end of the pandemic and beyond. The challenges of the pandemic have shown what can be achieved by government in short order – and how badly it can fail.
“We have made too many reports, covering billions and billions of pounds of taxpayers money wasted by cost and timetable overruns, or on projects ‘parked’ or abandoned after sinking massive resources for years. We want to see lasting improvements made to the way in which government delivers major projects - it will not be acceptable to keep seeing past problems repeated.”
Click here to see full details of the inquiry including evidence received.