Understanding public money flows

Invitation to debate the issue of public accountability

What do future parliaments need to gain an insight into how future governments manage public finances responsibly, prudently and economically? We are inviting political parties, the government, members of parliament, academics, journalists and other interested parties and experts to reflect on this question.

Point for consideration

What is the challenge?

A great deal has been done in recent years to put public finances and their management in order. For many years, more than 99% of central government’s financial transactions have been regular. The structure of public finances and public services, however, is so diffuse and complex that it is often difficult to follow a euro from the taxpayer to the public service. It is also sometimes uncertain who is accountable for what, or even what the policy outcomes are for society. The taxpayer deserves better.

Ministers are not the only parties that implement government policy and spend public money. These tasks are usually performed by networks in which the government is just one of the players. With the rapid succession of social and technical advances, we think it is time to reflect on public accountability; we believe public money should always be publicly and democratically audited, no matter how much the world around us changes.

By means of this publication, we invite political parties, the government, members of parliament, academics, journalists and other interested parties and experts to reflect on public accountability.

What do we need to reflect on?

To arrive at a form of public accountability that discloses how the government manages public money responsibly, prudently and economically, we need to reflect on the following points:

Clarity regarding who is accountable for what to whom
For effective democratic control and accountability, it must be clear how much responsibility the government wishes to take. Its responsibilities must be consistent with the tasks, powers, duties and roles of ministers, non-state authorities and executive organisations. The relationship should be laid down in an appropriate management, steering, funding, accountability and supervision arrangement so that members of parliament know who can be held accountable for what.

Improved information provision and use of new technologies
The government’s changing role and position in a variety of policy fields should be reflected in its provision of information and accountability to parliament. The way in which the government reports on and accounts for public finances should be brought more into line with the way in which other authorities, institutions and businesses account for themselves. And arm’s length institutions must be encouraged to account for, for example, customer satisfaction. The enormous increase in the volume of data available on the implementation of policy and new information technologies can help make the provision of information smarter, leaner and faster.

Insight into the outcomes of policy
There must be more insight into the policy outcomes paid for from the public purse and into where improvements can be made. This insight is necessary partly because policy is being implemented at a greater distance from central government and the pace of social change is accelerating. Public accountability to parliament has been dogged by the absence of appropriate, timely and reliable policy information. This persistent problem seems to be the outcome of a cultural problem . If so, a cultural change is required to focus and keep political and parliamentary attention on the outcomes of policy.