Saturday, April 25, 2009

Another Good Idea From Douglas Carswell

Douglas Carswell has had another good idea. He wants to make each government department's budget subject to ratification by the relevant select committee. He explains why HERE...
Here's a simple idea. Require every Whitehall department - and each associated quango - to have it's budget annually ratified by the relevant House of Commons select committee. No approval, no money.

"You mean having those we elect, in the legislature, control government spending, like they do in other countries, and used to do here? You mean forcing officials to justify where the money goes?". Yes.

At present, forget all the theory about Parliament controlling the money; it's Whitehall officials that decide. Having the executive decide how much money the executive spends means they spend more money.

It might also give our MPs something useful to do.

It makes government departments doubly accountable and also enhances the role of select committees. Can anyone tell me why this is not a good idea?


The Remittance Man said...

"Can anyone tell me why this is not a good idea?"Only every member of the executive and every senior civil servant. Then again, why should they have any say in the matter, they are the nation's servants after all.

We need more people like Mr Carswell to keep reminding them of this fact.

Major Plonquer said...

Of course its a good idea. But that in itself is a problem. There is no corelation between how good an idea is and its likehood of adoption by Brown. In fact the opposite seems to be true.

Dick the Prick said...

I'm probably showing my ignorance here but there needs to be incentives to save. Certainly at regional & local level all incentives are geared up to overspend as efficiency's are clawed back.

If the Tories do well in the locals and take back loads of councils - central gov really does have to allow flexibility to save.

Don't know how and have to go and buy a washing machine but I hope someone's doing some engineering at CCHQ. Someone should be planning Vic.... best not say it eh?

Alex Folkes said...

The danger is that Select Committee reviews of budgets will end up focussing on tiny elements that are either in or out. Politicians on the committee will end up like their US colleagues an demanding pork barrel local projects or other pet projects be included for no good reason. Others will focus on what they see as silly expenditure that is in the budget - fair play but these will get far more play than the bigger picture. In local council terms, everyone will focus on the £10k spent on carpets and ignore the £35m spent on social services. The carpet might be a bad use of money, but is almost insignificant compared to the social services budget

Anonymous said...

I wish he hadn't spelled 'its' wrong. That sort of thing really upsets me

Catosays said...

Iain, in view of the disgusting way this government has treated the Gurkhas, may I use your good offices to publicise this petition?

It will, of course, embarrass the government and over 150,000 have signed it already.

strapworld said...

Of course uit is a good idea and one that Cameron could endorse, promising to bring it in as an experiment following the election. Thus giving, as you and others point out, Iain, MP's more authority.

It will also identify quango's and make them justify both their existence and unbelievable salaries!

A constitutional change that David Starkey would endorse!

Plato said...

I like the idea of the Select Committees doing it provided they act like grown-ups [unrealistic I know]

Anonymous said...

Why do we need quango's?
What do they actually do?

Just get rid of the lot of them and reduce the number of MP's.

This will save real time and money.

Michael Heaver said...

Carswell is great. Shame hardly any of his parliamentary colleagues share the same ambition for radical change.

Morus said...


It's a great idea, with one caveat.

At the moment, the budget suggested by the Government (the Executive) would be voted on by Select Committees which (with the exception of the PAC) have a whipped government majority, and that the members of the Select Committee are essentially chosen by the whips.

In the US Congress, choice of place on committees is generally done by seniority - it is rare for the Congressional leadership to override this. The idea of the Executive interfering in this process would be unthinkable.
It would be a more-legitimate rubber-stamping process, unless you introduced a different way of choosing who sat on the Select Committees. Until that's done, it's pointless giving them any more power.

Erskine May said...

I think a not dissimilar suggestion was made by the Conservative Party's Commission to the Strengthen Parliament in its report published in 2000. As I recall, the proposal was based on an idea originating from David Davis.

Guthrum said...

Because Quangos need to be abolished completely, and Whitehall broken up to Regional/County level apart from defence and the foreign office.

Being over governed by mediocrity is what has has lead us to this situation of national bankruptcy

Rubislaw said...

Well firstly read what Nadine said about the IUS Select Committee (which she refuses to attend and has only six active members).

Secondly, like it or not, it is ministers who set the policy agenda and the budget needs to be set to deliver the policy agenda.

Raedwald said...

What Guthrum said.

If you believe central government should confine itself to matters that can only be dealt with at national level - defence, legal frameworks and laws and the like - and everything else should be devolved to the lowest level that can effectively deal with it, a better use of select committees might be to question why they are dealing with the matter at all, and to whom to devolve it.

Martin S said...

That's a very good idea.

It would help them department/Quango, too, as it would help them to focus on what they are doing.

Unknown said...

You would need to have membership of select committees subject to election by secret ballot of MPs. Otherwise the whips will just put in who they want and it's just another rubber stamp.

How do we get from here to a separation between the legislature and the executive?

Martin S said...

Oh, Anonymous!

In this context "it's" is a contraction of it is.

So he did not spell it wrongly.

Anonymous said...

Cameron should jump on this idea. Then, when he has to swing the axe, he will be able not only to explain but say 'pity Gord didn't do it.'
It might also mean abolishing seventy five per cent of the quangos.

Alex said...

Select committees are not independent from the government. The NAO is responsible for reviewing the books albeit in arrears, but with much more scrutiny than the Select Committees could ever manage.

Peter said...

I'm just repeating what others have already said, but what the heck!

The biggest problem with this is that the ruling party has an in-built majority on select committees and would find itself increasingly tempted to whip its members into voting 'correctly' on the budget items. Select committees would probably not remain very independent for very long.

I've always thought strengthening the committee system is something that needs to be looked at, especially if reform of the Lords were to somehow water-down that chamber's independence and useful scrutinising role. However, the problem of tight party discipline on committees is something I just can't imagine a way around...?

Lola said...

"Iain said "Can anyone tell me why this is not a good idea". Yes. it could well give respectibility to a whole raft of disreputable and pointless quangos who get their money from the industries they ru(i)n. Eg the FSA. Better to deal with them by applying a simple, disclosed, product levy. Hence the end user could see the price of such regulation and make the decision on value.

Scary Mary said...

I'm with Morus and Forlonehope. The govt (executive) decide which members of the legislature sit on these committees. Since member of the govt can't sit on select committees then these will largely be made up of backbenchers eager for promotion and preferment which they sure as hell won't get if they veto the PM's spending plans for one of his departments.
Additionally, since this govt has added to the number of MPs on the payroll, you could see ministerial bag carriers vetoing their minister's budget? Never gonna happen.

Anonymous said...

'Oh, Anonymous!

In this context "it's" is a contraction of it is.

So he did not spell it wrongly.'

He did spell it wrongly and now you have too

Anonymous said...

'Oh, Anonymous!

In this context "it's" is a contraction of it is.

So he did not spell it wrongly.

April 25, 2009 11:56 AM'

And I see you omit the apostrophe from your own ID too. Shakes head

Anonymous said...


>>In this context "it's" is a contraction of it is.<<

No, it's the possessive form of 'it', not a contraction, and does not have an apostrophe.

Think This said...

Its a fantastic idea. Forward it to central office at once!

greg said...

The process to achieve savings in public expenditure is simple.

1) Start with a base budget
2) Set a target for expenditure reductions which it is the job of departmental level budget holders to identify
3) Once those reductions are identified, "bank" them by reducing the relevant budget accordingly
4)Set tough performance targets for staying within budget.

Too often in public expenditure the focus is on making in year savings within budget (sometimes with a "penalty" of budget reductions if those savings aren't made). Keeping a large budget is a "prize" for making one-off savings.

This is a ludicrous approach which perpetuates the view that departmental prestige is generated by large budgets, and inevitably means that savings will not be entrenched but merely restricted to periodic periods of "austerity".

The focus should be on reducing budgets and maintaining spending within budgets, NOT keeping large budgets but making in year savings against them.

James Dowden said...

It's precisely because it would be unusual for a committee to reject a ministry's budget that it is a good idea for it to have such a power. It would take the most unsupportable of grotesque excesses for a budget to be refused. A minister can be threatened and bounced into defending the truly indefensible (as we have seen all too much lately) far more easily than a committee.

This is a marvellous way of stopping New Labour's political infiltrators in the Civil Service, and should be a manifesto commitment.

DespairingLiberal said...

I've long thought this would be a good idea. Where on earth though is the incredibly supine and superficial NAO? Supposed to be the oversight body, yet wholly neutralised within the British system we so love. Er.

Obviously the departments would try to blind the committees with science but an obvious place to start is the role of mega-contractors, especially in the IT sphere, and the way they have perverted and suborned both the system and senior civil servants to be little more than salesmen for their operations.

If these things were investigated and attacked properly, there would be no need to cut "front line" staff in the NHS or whatever - just get rid of a huge and bloated layer of corporate-welfare "commercial bureacrats".

DespairingLiberal said...

You are right Peter - which is why committee chairs should be elected in free votes. The US system of running these things is more probing and democratic than here, which is precisely why our political leaders don't want to adopt it. I don't expect we shall see M'Lud Cameron (so ordinary - so much a man of the people!) demanding it in this century.

Lola said...

Greg 4.45. No, don't do that. They - the bureaucrats - will just sack teachrs and doctors rather than themselves hence 'proving' that budgets can't be cut. Sack the lot except the doctors teachers etc, cut taxes - aka give people their money back and if you want to add in some redistribution issue vouchers to enable the 'poor' to buy the services now provided efficiently by private business that they need.