Public Accounts Committee review of Dft spending

Today, the Public Accounts Committee released the results of their latest inquiry – “Reducing costs in the Department for Transport” – download as PDF file.

Several things stand out from the review.

For instance in section 1.3 they say

“3. The Department acknowledged that transport spending decisions need to be planned over a long time-horizon, and this can make it difficult to vary spending plans at short notice. The Department had begun preparing for the Spending Review from 2009, including commissioning projects to consider how it could do things fundamentally differently. However, there was no comprehensive strategy to inform the Department’s decisions so it was difficult to judge whether decisions impacted on strategic objectives like economic growth.[5] Instead of having a clear strategy the Department explained that it had used a “pipeline” approach to prioritise its capital programmes, so that it could speed up the rate at which it commissioned projects if more money became available.[6]”

This sounds like the DfT think it’s a good idea to have a program of rail improvement projects which can be timed as required. A bit like the 51M suggestions of having incremental upgrades to the West Coast Main line instead of building HS2.

In section 2 of the report, the PAC committee expressed concerns about Network Rail.

As Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, said:

“It is unacceptable that Network Rail is still not fully transparent or accountable to Parliament or the taxpayer. The Department hands Network Rail over £3 billion each year and underwrites debt of over £25 billion and yet maintains the fiction that this is a private sector company. The National Audit Office must be allowed full audit access as quickly as possible to this organisation which is essentially kept afloat through public funds.”

Looking at the report today reminds me of the Public Accounts Committee on increasing rail capacity, which we reported on it when it came out in November 2010.  See Overcrowding on Trains – a problem for commuters now, part 2 and part 3.

The Public Accounts Committee said at the time:

“The unique and complex structure of the rail industry makes it inherently cumbersome and expensive, and provides little external challenge to its vested interest in its own growth. The Department should conduct a fundamental review of the rail industry’s structure, to ensure better accountability and value for money, with the aim of reducing conflicts of interest, aligning efforts on maximising efficiency, and restraining the tendency to seek solutions through growth.”

One comment to “Public Accounts Committee review of Dft spending”
  1. This doc. is frightening. I’m sure the DfT are not alone in their incompetance. How have they got away with their amateurish mismanagement? It’s a good thing for them they are not in industry and their jobs are not apparently accountable.

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