Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee The Purpose of PACAC

The remit of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) is set out in the House of Commons Standing Orders as follows:

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) examines constitutional issues and the quality and standards of administration within the Civil Service. It also scrutinises the reports of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

While the Standing Order clearly defines the role and remit of the Committee, it does not set out a wider purpose or strategy for the Committee nor for its programme of work.

The Liaison Committee

The Liaison Committee provided additional guidance for Select Committees, and published a set of revised core tasks, which were agreed by the House on 31 January 2013. The full list is attached at the end of this document. However, the stated overall aim of Select Committees is to:

“hold Ministers and Departments to account for their policy and decision-making and to support the House in its control of the supply of public money and scrutiny of legislation”

While our remit is clearly defined, it is for the Committee to decide which inquiries it wishes to undertake, which themes and issues to pursue, which conclusions we draw and which recommendations we make to Government.

However, given the breadth of our remit it is not always necessarily clear, either to Parliament or the public, how and why we choose to pursue specific issues (and not others), and how our programme of works fits together.

Image: Parliamentary copyright

Strategic Priorities

At the beginning of this Parliament, we therefore agreed two key themes and strategic priorities for our programme of work during this Parliament:

  1. The UK’s changing constitution, and
  2. The efficacy of the civil service and machinery of government

While some of our inquiries to date have been reactive, for example, ‘The collapse of kids company’, most have fallen within one of these two strategic priorities. In doing so, in addition to making specific recommendations on specific subjects, we have been building a body of knowledge, learning and expertise across a wide range of inquiries which promote better governance, increased efficacy and improved functioning of the key institutions (for example, the civil service, the House of Lords, the devolved administrations) at the heart of government in the UK.

In order to further promote the importance and increase the influence and impact of our work, we need to present our whole programme in such a way as to demonstrate –

  • Coherence: the consistent themes in our work, and how they apply across the many disparate bodies and matters within PACAC’s broad remit
  • Context: how scrutiny of a single issue or public body is not relevant only to that individual body, but how broader themes and lessons can be identified for our portfolio of work
  • Capability: how our inquiries and evidence sessions will contribute to enhanced learning and effectiveness in the public service, and
  • Confidence: how our detailed and robust scrutiny of Government and other organisations will help to ensure that the Cabinet Office and other institutions are fit for purpose, thereby enhancing public confidence in those institutions.

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Core Purpose

So, the core purpose of the Committee is:

“to conduct robust and effective scrutiny in order to help create conditions where the public can have justified confidence in public services/ government”.

Thinking in these terms, and presenting our work through an effective media and public engagement strategy will promote understanding of our aims and objectives and how our work can bring about change.

The statement encapsulates our main focus in scrutinising the work of the Cabinet Office and all the various bodies it sponsors, public appointments, the provision of information (qualitative and quantitative) to the public, the civil service, providers of public services and constitutional issues, such in the reform of the House of Lords, and the relationships between both Parliament and Whitehall with the devolved Executives and Legislatures.

Promote good governance and accountability

In this sense, PACAC’s broad remit enables us to draw on a wide body of knowledge and detailed examples to explore and promote good governance and accountability across a wide range of key institutions at the heart of governing in the United Kingdom.

Expressing a clear statement of purpose will also inform and facilitate decision about the Committee’s future work programme, For example, in deciding: i) when the intention of an Inquiry is to influence, when it is to engage, when to set an agenda and when to hold to account; and ii) when and how it would be most appropriate for the Committee to follow up its recommendations.

Often an Inquiry (or a particular evidence session) makes it clear that there is a need for change in governance and organisation (this may be in terms of structure, leadership, governance, culture, risk management or decision-making (e.g. in the case of the Chilcot inquiry)). For instance the Committee has identified, on multiple occasions, the less than clear governance relationships between the Cabinet Office and the bodies it sponsors.

This work may not be the direct responsibility of PACAC but it is essential for public confidence, and therefore part of the broader conversation which our work seeks to promote.

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