‘Unhelpful' CLG accused of malaise
A committee of MPs has criticised Communities and Local Government officials for failing to explain properly what they did with a £1.3 billion chunk of the department's budget.
A report by the cross-party CLG select committee slated the ‘poor quality of information' it received from the
department during 2005/06. MPs said weaknesses in the way the department responded to the committee's
inquiries were ‘generic and symptomatic of a wider malaise'.
‘The department's failure to provide consistently complete and timely information in a helpful manner makes our job much harder,' the report said.
‘It is often held that one of the purposes of scrutiny is to improve the performance of its subject: to the extent that that is true the department is undermining its own ambitions when it imposes barriers – either
deliberately or unwittingly – to effective scrutiny.'
The report singled out for particular criticism a document in which the department requested additional resources and transfers between budgets of £1.3 billion.
The ‘unhelpful, turgid' document provided little explanation about what the department planned to do with the money, the report said.
The money included grants to housing associations and £33 million of funding for the housing market renewal pathfinders. ‘Despite the large sums involved, the explanatory memorandum did not include
sufficient information on the reasoning behind these transfers or requests for additional resources,' the report added.
Dr Phyllis Starkey, chair of the CLG committee, told Inside Housing that the department had clearly failed to
follow the government's own guidance when producing its ‘supplementary estimates' memorandum. This set out the department's spending plans for the £1.3 billion.
‘The point of the supplementary estimates being presented to Parliament is for members to take a view on whether the changes in spending are justified or not,' she said.
‘If they can't understand what the changes relate to how can they possibly take a view?'
When challenged the department updated information and told the committee it would provide them with a
private briefing to explain further.
But the report concluded that ‘in principle we prefer to conduct detailed scrutiny of departmental estimates in
public and on the record'.
The criticisms follow hot on the heels of a Cabinet Office report which revealed the CLG was one of the least capable departments in Whitehall (Inside Housing, 15 December).
A CLG spokesperson said it had developed a productive working relationship with the committee.
‘While we recognise that there is always more that we can do the select committee does recognise our willingness to co-operate,' she said.