Matt Hancock: pooled budgets must not weaken accountability

Minister for the Cabinet Office Matt Hancock says new "implementation taskforces" recognise the need for cross-government working, but stresses the need for accountability

By Civil Service World

16 Jun 2015

Government must be "very careful" not to weaken the lines of financial accountability when delivering programmes that cross departmental boundaries, Matt Hancock has said.

David Cameron last month launched ten new "implementation taskforces" to try and give Number 10 more cross-governmental clout as the Conservatives seek to deliver on their manifesto commitments. 

The taskforces are not organised along traditional departmental lines, instead bringing together key ministers and officials from a range of departments to track implementation in wide-ranging areas including housing, helping "troubled families", driving up exports, and managing the return of British citizens from Syria.

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Addressing the Reform think tank in central London this afternoon, Hancock – the new minister for the Cabinet Office whose duties include civil service reform – said the new taskforces would have a clear remit to join up disparate areas of government.

"Much of government policy is rightly set in departments with the focus to reform a particular area," he said. "Our reforms to education and welfare, for example, are crucial, and led brilliantly by those two departments. But, increasingly, transforming government means working across departmental lines. In terms of policy, we have now brought together, in ten implementation taskforces, the key manifesto priorities that we are determined to drive through.

"Unlike Cabinet committees, which essentially exist to clear policy proposals across the collective responsibility of government, these taskforces are about executing cross-departmental agendas, from childcare, to youth unemployment, immigration to housing. They comprise not just the key ministers, but the top officials and experts in any area.

"And just as policy increasingly needs to break down the silos, so delivery increasingly cuts right across government. In property, project management, procurement, digital, data and people, transformation comes by working across departmental lines."

But, when asked whether the taskforces could oversee a shift towards more money being allocated according to policy priorities rather than along strict departmental lines, Hancock said government had a duty to be cautious.

"There’s undoubtedly money that follows the execution of government programmes," he said. "But there’s a genuine catch here, which is that you also want to make sure there is accountability for the spending of that money. And accountability flows through accounting officers in the civil service.

"You want to be clear about who is responsible for spending that money so you can hold them to account. You’ve got to make sure that your work is both collaborative and that the lines of accountability are clear.

"It tends to be – not in every case – that when departments do collaborate, they will collaborate with budgets from each department. There are times when we then go the next step which is pooled budgets. But then you need to make sure you retain the accountability for that budget once it's pooled."

The coalition government launched a number of major programmes which draw their funding from more than one government department, including the Troubled Families Programme, whose combined £448m budget comes from Education, Communities, Work and Pensions, Health, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. 

The £5.3bn Better Care Fund, which aims to support councils and NHS bodies in integrating health and social care services, also relies on collaboration between the Department of Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health.

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