Macpherson: 'Political aims skew public spending'

Efforts by the Treasury to incorporate long-term analyses into its budgetary calculations are being hampered by the political calculations of successive governments, Nick Macpherson, permanent secretary at HM Treasury, said on Monday.

By Civil Service World

01 Nov 2012

Speaking to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Macpherson said: “There are lots of areas of spending that I as an official will think: ‘This is a complete waste of time’.”

While he accepted the need for “input targets” – specified levels of spending on fields such as overseas aid or health – he said politicians can get “hung up” on them, and they “constrain better spending choices.”

“I think certainly in most cases, for totally understandable reasons, it is difficult to get governments to focus much beyond the current Parliament,” he added.

Macpherson also urged departments to begin work now on the next spending review, and to work together to come up with shared plans for spending on common objectives. “Organisations which can come up with really attractive bids, really well argued submissions, tend to make more progress than those that come up with really poor bits of analysis,” he said. “So I would encourage departments right now, even before the spending review, to think how they can join up on a common cause.”

Sharon White, HMT’s director general of public spending, told PAC that departments shouldn’t wait for a push from Treasury: “It is as if, unless the Treasury sets out a clear plan with a starting gun, that somehow departments don’t feel they are empowered to do this work.”

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