Treasury Select Committee chair Mel Stride has called on his departmental scrutiny committee counterparts to start quizzing their ministries about the long-term funding pressures they’re facing ahead of the looming 2020 Spending Review.
With new chancellor Rishi Sunak poised to give further detail on the timescale for the first multi-year spending review since 2015 in next week's Budget, Stride said it was time for scrutiny committees to start asking their departments for detail on the factors that would influence their spending priorities.
Stride also published letters he has sent to chief secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay and HM Revenue and Customs perm sec Jim Harra soliciting detailed answers for the Treasury Committee's work.
Stride asks Barclay a list of questions about how the Treasury intends to run the 2020 Spending Review, including whether it intends to re-establish a cabinet public expenditure committee. His letter then goes on to ask for specific details of planned efficiencies within the department; “details of known unavoidable volume, demand, demographic, or cost pressures and their likely costs and impacts”; and for details of capital spending priorities and likely costs.
In addition to detailing priorities and service pressures, HMRC’s Harra is asked how he plans to “improve the engagement of his workforce” and what steps he is taking to “drive improvements in the professionalism” of staff.
HMRC has struggled with is employee-engagement ratings in the Civil Service People Survey in recent years. The latest set of survey results – relating to the 2019 survey – has yet to be published.
Stride said his counterparts at the other departmental select committees should be asking similarly challenging questions to those posed to Barclay and Harra.
“Decisions will be taken shortly by the government on spending for the next three or more years. Now is an ideal time for newly formed committees to engage with ministers about their priorities for the review,” he said.
“There is a lot at stake in this Spending Review. If committees can examine the spending priorities for their departments in this process and keep us informed, it will improve our ability to scrutinise cross-cutting issues with Treasury ministers."
Among a host of sample questions scrutiny committees were encouraged to ask the departments they oversee for efficiency plans - including information on how boosts might be achieved and details of the amounts of savings they are expected to generate.
Stride said ministers should be asked which areas of their departments’ policy or provision were regarded as already efficient, which were seen as capable of delivering further savings, and which may be incapable of absorbing spending cuts without provision being lost of policy affected.