Session: 2012/2013

Date: 19 November 2013

ISBN: Only available online

Committee: Public Accounts

Remit and Powers

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is a Standing Committee established in accordance with Section 60(3) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Assembly Standing Order 56.

“to consider accounts, and reports on accounts laid before the Assembly”.

The Committee has the power to:

  • consider accounts and reports on accounts laid before the Assembly
  • call for persons and papers;
  • initiate inquiries and issue reports.

The PAC Process

The Committee’s work focuses primarily on the consideration of reports produced by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) and his organisation, the Northern Ireland Audit Office. These can be annual financial reports on public accounts or reports on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of public spending.

The Committee selects and examines Audit Office reports that are material to its remit, and can assist in developing lessons to improve accountability and financial governance mechanisms in the public sector.

It calls the Accounting Officers responsible for expenditure examined in each report to give oral evidence. Members scrutinise the report and the evidence, and produce recommendations for improved financial systems and controls in a Committee report.

The Treasury Officer of Accounts (TOA) attends all evidence sessions on behalf of the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), answering Members’ questions and supporting Accounting Officers.

Through the Minister for Finance and Personnel, the Executive member with central authority for financial matters, the relevant Department responds to the Committee’s recommendations two months after publication of the report. This is called a memorandum of reply. The TOA co-ordinates this response and promotes good practice across Departments.

Membership

The Committee has 11 members, including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, with a quorum of 5 members.

The membership of the Committee since 7 May 2013 has been as follows:

Democratic Unionist Party

Mr Trevor Clarke (8)

 

Mr Paul Girvan

 

Mr David McIlveen (9,11)

 

Mr Adrian McQuillan (1)

Sinn Fein

Ms Michaela Boyle (3) (Chairperson)

 

Mr Chris Hazzard (10)

 

Mr Daithí McKay (2,4,7)

Social Democratic and Labour Party

Mr John Dallat (5) (Deputy Chairperson)

 

Mr Seán Rogers (6)

Ulster Unionist Party

Mr Michael Copeland

 

Mr Ross Hussey

1 With effect from 24 October 2011 Mr Adrian McQuillan replaced Mr Paul Frew

2 With effect from 23 January 2012 Mr Conor Murphy replaced Ms Jennifer McCann

3 With effect from 02 July 2012 Ms Michaela Boyle replaced Mr Paul Maskey as Chairperson

4 With effect from 02 July 2012 Mr Conor Murphy is no longer a Member and his replacement on this committee has not yet been announced

5 With effect from 07 September 2012 Mr John Dallat replaced Mr Joe Byrne as Deputy Chairperson.

6 With effect from 10 September 2012 Mr Sean Rogers was appointed as a Member

7 With effect from 10 September 2012 Mr Daithi McKay was appointed as a Member

8 With effect from 01 October 2012 Mr Trevor Clarke replaced Mr Alex Easton

9 With effect from 11 February 2013 Mr Sammy Douglas replaced Mr Sydney Anderson

10 With effect from 15 April 2013 Mr Chris Hazzard replaced Mr Mitchel McLaughlin

11 With effect from 07 May 2013 Mr David McIlveen replaced Mr Sammy Douglas

Committee activities, outputs and achievements

Reports

This report covers the work of the Committee from 1 September 2012 to 31 August 2013 (Assembly year 2012-13). The Committee held eight inquiries during this period. In chronological order, they were reported on as follows:

Report Number

Issue Date

Report Title

ISBN Number

       

99/11-15

20.02.2013

Inquiry into NIHE Management of Response Maintenance Contracts

978 0 339 60468 1

       

102/11-15

27.02.2013

Inquiry into The Safety of Services provided by Health and Social Care Trusts

978 0 339 60477 3

109/11-15

24.04.2013

Inquiry into Invest NI: A Performance Review

978 0 339 60478 0

       

116/11-15

29.05.2013

Inquiry into Improving Literacy and Numeracy Achievement in Schools

978 0 339 60428 7

The four inquiries listed below are still under the consideration of the Committee and will be reported on in due course.

  • Inquiry into The Police Service of Northern Ireland: Use of Agency Staff
  • Inquiry into NI Fire and Rescue Service: An Organisational Assessment and Review of Departmental Oversight and Report on Accounts 2011 - 2012
  • Inquiry into Department of Finance and Personnel - Collaborative Procurement and Aggregated Demand
  • Inquiry into Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure: Management of Major Capital Projects 

Meetings held

Throughout 2012-13, the Committee met on 38 occasions with forty-six per cent of its time being spent in closed session due to the sensitive nature of the issues considered.

The purpose of most closed sessions was to consider the approach to specific inquiries, enabling members to explore the facts and increase their understanding of the more complex findings in the reports.

As part of the Assembly’s co-ordinated committee visit to Derry/Londonderry as part of the City of Culture 2013 celebrations, the Committee agreed to hold one of its June meetings in the North West Regional College’s Northland Campus. The Committee also visited Magilligan Prison in relation to literacy and numeracy for adults.

Summary of Inquiries

PAC selects the reports it covers on the basis of public interest, the order of expenditure involved and the lessons that can be learned from the report.

Report on NIHE Management of Response Maintenance Contracts

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive spends in the region of £50 million annually improving and maintaining its stock of 90,000 houses.

The Public Accounts Committee found that the management and oversight of this service have been abjectly poor. Despite serious problems with the management of response maintenance contracts being evident to the Housing Executive’s Senior Management for many years, nothing was done to address this. The Committee noted that oversight by both the Board of the Housing Executive and the Department for Social Development was also inadequate. As a result significant failings within the organisation were not identified and therefore left unchallenged.

It was the view of the Committee that a culmination of basic failures in governance and management exposed the Housing Executive to a very significant risk of fraud, impropriety and poor value for money over many years in relation to its response maintenance expenditure.

The Committee welcomed the Department’s and the Housing Executive’s commitment to introduce the substantial changes needed to improve governance, accountability, contract management and value for money. The Committee stressed that a transformation of the organisational culture within the Housing Executive was urgent and needed to be implemented in order to regain credibility and restore public confidence, and that the Department had an important role to play in ensuring this transformation.

The Committee also looked to the Department for Finance and Personnel to ensure that the lessons from this report were promulgated to, and acted upon by, Boards, Audit Committees and senior managers across the public sector.

In conclusion, the Committee made a summary of recommendations to the Housing Executive and Department for Social Development in respect of addressing the issue of managing response maintenance contracts in order to make better use of taxpayer’s money and to provide a better service to Housing Executive tenants.

Of a total of 10 recommendations, all were accepted.

Report on the Safety of Services provided by Health and Social Care Trusts

Each year there are in excess of 15 million key interactions between health and social care staff and health care patients and social care clients. The challenge for these providers is to ensure that patient safety systems minimise the risk of harm and that steps are taken to maximise the competence, knowledge and skills of health and social care professionals.

Following two reports on unsafe care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, the Committee reported that it was important that trusts in Northern Ireland learn from the incidents in Mid-Staffordshire and ensure that nothing like the events there could possibly happen here.

Following a briefing by DHSSPS, the Committee noted that of the 2,084 serious adverse incidents reported between July 2004 and March 2012, 813 individuals died in circumstances related to these incidents. Whilst acknowledging that not all deaths may be a reflection of issues with the care delivered by health and social care services, the Committee considered that the number of deaths suggested that the standard of care being delivered by health and social care bodies required continued close scrutiny.

Whilst patient harm arising from adverse incidents is both a systemic and a human problem, systemic solutions to the problem are needed. The Committee recommended that safety systems should include effective reporting and learning systems, effective remedial mechanisms and the active dissemination and implementation of evidence-based knowledge aimed at reducing adverse incidents. Patients and clients seeking redress as a result of dissatisfaction with the care or treatment they received cost the DHSSPS £116 million between 2007 and 2012, with around 35% of the sum being spent on legal and administrative costs.

Of a total of 14 recommendations, 13 were accepted.

Report on Invest NI: A Performance Review

Invest NI was established in April 2002 as Northern Ireland’s main economic development organisation. Between April 2002 and March 2011, Invest NI spent almost £1.5 billion, and it estimates that this has resulted in the promotion of 42,600 new jobs, the safeguarding of 19,400 jobs and planned investment of £5.5 billion in the local economy.

Developing the local economy is the key priority of the Programme for Government and Invest NI is a key influencer in this initiative. However, measuring the organisations performance is a complex process due to the range of differing targets and indicators reported.

As well as measuring set targets, the Committee identified a range of other factors which must be considered when attempting to gauge the strength of the organisation’s performance. These include:

  • measuring actual outcomes in relation performance for jobs, salaries and investment. Previously this was based on initial promises made by investors at the start of a project;
  • additionality and deadweight;
  • the extent to which new jobs created by Invest NI’s supported companies are counter-balanced by jobs lost, as well as the quality and duration of jobs secured; and
  • the degree to which Invest NI’s programmes are helping reduce the historic productivity gap between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

A total of 9 recommendations were made.

Report into Improving Literacy and Numeracy Achievement in Schools

Whilst literacy and numeracy are fundamental skills necessary for our children to reach their potential at school and live rewarding lives, there is also a growing need to achieve real, sustained improvements in these core skills, particularly in an increasingly competitive global economy.

The Committee noted that, whilst the Department of Education has focused on building the capacity of teachers and schools to improve levels of literacy and numeracy, progress in recent years has been slow with a high concentration of poor outcomes in some schools and a big gap in performance, partially linked to social deprivation.

As part of its report, the Committee has outlined a number of key elements which consistently underlie the performance of schools that achieve high standards of literacy and numeracy.

A total of 16 recommendations were made.

Ministerial Directions

When a Minister wishes to proceed with a course of expenditure against the advice of his or her Accounting Officer, a Ministerial Direction is notified to PAC. This means that the accountability line for this expenditure will be to the Minister rather than the Accounting Officer.

Integrated Services for Children and Young People

At its meeting on 6 February 2013 the Committee considered correspondence from the Comptroller and Auditor General detailing financial provisions for Integrated Services for Children and Young People.

The direction was sought by the Accounting Officer of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety for £700k up to 31 March 2013 to avoid the collapse of the project while deciding about future provision.

The Committee agreed that the C&AG would monitor the expenditure in line with current audit practices.

Newry and Lisburn Health Care Centres

At its meeting on 26 June 2013 the Committee considered correspondence from the Comptroller and Auditor General relating to financial provisions for the Newry and Lisburn Health Care Centres.

The direction was sought by the Accounting Officer of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety concerning the procurement of Newry and Lisburn Health Care Centres through Third Party Development funding.

The view of the Department was that the capital costs associated with the preferred procurement options were not affordable within the then capital programme in order to be progressed in the short to medium term. The ministerial view was that delaying the projects would impact on the reform of the health and social care system.

The Committee agreed that the C&AG would monitor the expenditure in line with current audit practices, and report any significant issues as required.

DARD – Hardship Payments

At its meeting on 26 June 2013 the Committee considered correspondence from the Comptroller and Auditor General relating to financial provisions for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Hardship Payments.

The direction was sought by the Accounting Officer of the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development on three matters concerning payments to farmers affected by the Spring blizzard of 22-24 March 2013.

A paper was prepared on these matters and was approved by the Executive on 16 May 2013.

The Committee agreed that the C&AG would monitor the expenditure in line with current audit practices, and report any significant issues as required.

Recommendations

In total this year, the Committee has made 43 recommendations to improve financial accountability to the taxpayer. It continues to monitor departmental progress in implementing them.

Additional work by the Committee

In support of the Committee’s work on improving adult literacy and numeracy, Members visited Magilligan Prison to see first-hand the excellent work taking place whereby prisoners with no literacy skills were learning to read within six months. Those prisoners participating in the scheme were, in turn, teaching others to read. This was only one of a range of very constructive courses which created opportunities for people who could not previously find their way. As its report on literacy and numeracy had already been published, the Committee agreed to inform the Committee for Employment and Learning, which was conducting an inquiry into essential skills, of its finding from the prison schemes.

In 2012, the Committee developed links with counterparts in the Welsh Assembly in order to share ideas on improving the effectiveness of the Public Accounts Committee. Through Atlantic Philanthropies, the Committee obtained specialist advice in questioning and scrutiny techniques. Members have now adopted these techniques as a matter of procedure in evidence sessions which has led to more efficient and effective scrutiny during inquiries. The model adopted

ANNEX A

Public Accounts Committee

Expenditure for the period 23 May 2011 – 31 August 2012  

Budget area

Details

Expenditure

Committee Travel - committee members and staff travel and subsistence in relation to visits and meetings outside Parliament Buildings

Visit to Magilliagan Prison and committee meeting at the North West Regional College

£304.00

Printing of committee reports

Report on Improving Literacy and Numeracy in Schools

Invest NI: A Performance Review

Report on the Safety of Services Provided by Health and Social Care Trusts

Report on the NIHE Management of Response Maintenance Contracts

Report on the Statement of Rate Levy and Collection 2009/10 and 2010/11

Report on the Safeguarding NI’s Listed Buildings

£2,988.30

General expenses

Cost of refreshments for Committee meetings, working lunches, seminars, room hire and witness expenses

£1620.41

TOTAL

 

 

£4912.71

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