Spotlight on how the Government spends our taxes

Gary Rycroft.
Gary Rycroft.
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The Budget has been and gone and we now know from where the Government plans to raise revenue and how it intends to spend it.

But actually that is only part of the story of public finance. The much less talked about, but highly significant question, is how effective and honest is the way tax payers’ money is spent.

Margaret Hodge, the chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Margaret Hodge, the chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

For such scrutiny we rely on the Public Accounts Committee, a select committee of the House of Commons set up by Gladstone in 1861. Over the five years until May this year the chair was Margaret Hodge MP, who I met a couple of weeks ago. Her predecessors include two men who were assassinated, which as Lady Hodge remarked is one more than the number of Prime Ministers of this country who have been.

The Public Accounts Committee overseas public expenditure of over £700bn. It also has the power to request that any one appear before it. If a person is asked to appear and does not the chair may sign “an order” and if that is ignored the chair may request the person in question is remitted to the Tower of London for a “period of contemplation”.

In essence it’s all about seeing whether tax payers get value for their money. The good news is that sometimes we do - such as a recent prison rebuilding programme which came in on time and in budget.

The inevitable bad news is that there is a lot of waste and an apparent failure by Governments all hues not to learn from past mistakes.

Lady Hodge’s great triumph was to shine a light on the multi-national corporations who trade and make profits in this country, but who mitigate the tax they pay here by shifting losses from abroad.

She believes - and I agree - that this is a moral and a legal issue and there is an imperative to rewrite international laws so profits made out of economic activity in this country should be taxed here.

It also strikes me that perhaps if we spent less time concerned with the intricacies of how the Government collect money from us and more time concerned about what happens to our money once they their hands on it, there would not be the need to collect so much in the first place.