PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE
Most of my parliamentary time is spent on Public Accounts Committee work. The committee is one of the most high profile and influential committees in Parliament and as the SNP’s only representative (and the only member from a Scottish constituency) I aim to be closely involved in all the committee’s work unless they’re looking at something where the UK Government clearly has no remit in a devolved matter.
The committee usually holds two full televised “evidence sessions” per week (every Monday afternoon and every Thursday morning) when we question the most senior civil servants from a Government department. To prepare for these and to discuss the evidence we’ve heard, we usually have three or even four separate private meetings for each public session. And there’s obviously a lot of background reading as well. At a rough guess I’d say the Public Accounts Committee takes up between three and four times as much time as I previously spent on the Brexit committee.
The Public Accounts Committee is not supposed to comment on the rights and wrongs of Government policy as that’s the job of each departmental Select Committee (believe me, I really have to bite my tongue when we’re examining things like Universal Credit or the nuclear weapons programme!). Our main purpose is to report to Parliament on whether the civil service departments are achieving “value for money” in implementing legislation and carrying out the Government’s policies. In practice this means it’s often the Public Accounts Committee that lifts the lid on the waste of billions of pounds of public money due to inefficiency, incompetence, and sometimes “unconventional” actions by government ministers.
I always keep in close contact with the relevant SNP Spokesperson for whatever government department we’re examining. There’s a long standing rule that members of the Committee can’t issue overtly party political statements on the back of the Committee’s work, but to the full extent I’m allowed to I make sure that someone else is ready to comment from an SNP perspective on every report the Committee produces.
The evidence sessions I took part in covered the Covid Test and Trace programme; the operation (or failure to operate?) of the UK’s border with the EU after the end of the transition period; the UK Government’s strategy to achieve “Net Zero” carbon emissions; delays in replacing IT systems for the UK Border; underfunding of the Armed Forces Equipment Plan; and the work of the National Audit Office.
During the same period the Committee published five formal reports covering the Government’s progress in improving access to broadband services; the performance of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs during 2019/20; the financial accountability publication “Whole of Government Accounts”; the financial sustainability of colleges (as this is devolved, the report has little remit in Scotland); the lessons to be learned from problems with previous major government-funded programmes; achieving the Government’s long term environmental goals; the Covid free school meals system (England only); Government contracts for the supply of Covid Personal Protective Equipment; planning the Covid vaccination programme; and budget overspending by Government departments. Most of these reports were based on evidence sessions during November or December 2020.
Click here to read more about our work on the committee's website.