Committee of Public Accounts

The work of this committee, usually known as ‘the PAC’, and of the Comptroller and Auditor General who supports it, is described in Chapter 7.

Public Administration Committee

This committee was set up in 1997, taking on the functions of two previous committees, the Public Service Committee and the Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. In its public service role, the committee has conducted inquiries into matters that affect the government as a whole: for example, during 2013-14 it published reports on the future of the census, the implications of open data, problems with statistics and reform of the civil service. The committee has 11 members and the power to appoint a sub-committee.

In its other role, the committee considers the reports of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is an entirely independent official who reports to Parliament. Assisted by a staff of 435, investigating complaints about maladministration and the actions (or inactions) of government departments and other public bodies that seem to have caused injustice that has not been put right. The main aim of the Ombudsman is to obtain a remedy for those who have suffered injustice, and the secondary aim is to ensure good standards of public administration. If serious faults are found, the Ombudsman can recommend to the public body concerned what redress it should offer and the action it should take to avoid a repetition of the failure. The Ombudsman has no power to enforce recommendations, but they are almost always accepted. There are separate Ombudsman posts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that report to their respective devolved parliamentary bodies.

The relationship between the Ombudsman and the Public Administration Committee is not unlike that between the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee (see page 249). The Ombudsman has the additional clout of the committee’s backing, and the committee is able to draw on the work of the Ombudsman’s office with its substantial resources. The committee considers the Ombudsman’s annual reports; but, rather than following up the details of individual investigations, it draws more general lessons for public administration as a whole.

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