Round-up: Select Committees

A whip round June's interesting committee reports and hearings, with Winnie Agbonlahor

By Winnie Agbonlahor

18 Jul 2014

Report calls for mental health to be cross-government priority

The Commons’ Justice Select Committee has called for the funding of mental health services to be an “urgent cross-departmental priority of the government as part of its national crime action plan”. Its report, published on 10 June, says the services’ “inadequate” funding costs “the police, courts, probation and prisons and victims of crime greatly”. 

The government has made progress in “bringing agencies together in collective efforts to prevent offending and reoffending”, the report says, but there are still “substantial fault-lines in the coherence of cross-government activity, in particular in relation to mental health and alcohol policy”. It recommends that the government consider pouring resources into early intervention and community-based techniques, “reducing the unnecessary use of imprisonment”. 

Committee chair Sir Alan Beith (pictured top left) said: “The committee welcomes the development of various cross-Government initiatives to deal with the sources of crime, such as the Troubled Families Programme. However, the resources attached to very early intervention schemes like Family Nurse Partnerships are tiny in relation to the prison budget and the staggeringly high costs to society of crime.” 


An MoJ spokesman said the government is “working to ensure we have an effective criminal justice system”, adding that it will respond to the committee’s report “in due course”.

CQC chief calls for simplified care complaints system

David Behan (pictured top right), chief executive of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), told the Health Select Committee on 17 June that the system for patient complaints about health and social care “needs to be simplified”. Under the current system, various organisations are responsible for different types of care, including the General Medical Council, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, and the Local Government Ombudsman. This, Behan said, creates a “confused landscape”. He noted that “it is important that people can complain to their local service”, and told the committee that the CQC must ensure whistleblowers’ concerns “are picked up and dealt with, working with other regulators and simplifying the system”.

Roads face ‘worst ever’ public satisfaction levels

Transport permanent secretary Philip Rutnam (pictured top middle) was presented with evidence that public satisfaction with the condition of roads is the “worst ever”, when he came before Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chair Margaret Hodge on 19 June. During a hearing on strategic infrastructure, Hodge cited the National Highways and Transport Survey, which found public satisfaction at 30% – the lowest level since the survey began in 2008. 

Rutnam agreed that “there is a lot of concern about the condition of local roads, though not evenly spread across the country. The greatest problems are in London and the South-East. There is a lot of concern; I understand that.” 

Kerslake defends local accountability system at PAC

Sir Bob Kerslake, head of the civil service and permanent secretary of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), defended the local accountability system – under which DCLG oversees local government spending – at a PAC hearing on 30 June. 

Hodge cited an NAO report, published on 25 June, which says that the methods used by DCLG to assess council spending include “personal contacts between departmental officials and local authorities” and “connections with organisations, such as the Local Government Association”. 

This system, said Hodge, “feels flimsy and not sufficiently structured”; she’s concerned the department is “dependent on these vague, unstructured ways of communicating”. Kerslake responded that DCLG’s information is “not wholly dependent on that”: his department receives “through the Audit Commission a report that summarises what has come out of the accounts of every one of the local authorities.” 

When Hodge noted that the commission is being abolished, Kerslake said: “I think we will secure a way of bringing together the summary of accounts that we currently get from the Audit Commission. We get some structured information from local authorities – information on expenditure and inspections and on their accounts – but we do not just rely on that. We also do a lot of informal connection with local authorities. Those are powerful ways of picking up whether there are vulnerabilities in particular authorities.”

DWP refutes accusations that it’s uncooperative 
The Department for Work and Pensions has rejected complaints by the Work and Pensions Select Committee that it hasn’t been providing accurate and timely information on Universal Credit (UC). In April, the committee urged DWP to set out “how it will improve the frankness, accuracy and timeliness of the information it provides to us, to ensure that it meets the required levels of transparency between the government and select committees, and that we are not hampered in trying to carry out our formal scrutiny role effectively”. 

In its response, published on 27 June, DWP said it “does not accept the premise behind this recommendation”, adding that “the government does not regard it as necessary to provide a running commentary on the day-to-day management” of every programme. The committee had also asked for cost estimates running beyond November – but the DWP response did not include any such estimates.  

This round-up was produced with Dods Monitoring, which provides comprehensive and timely reports on political events. For info, contact

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