Local Public Accounts Committees – You Heard It Here First

Posted on 20/03/2023 by Admin.

Local Public Accounts Committees – You Heard It Here First

It’s been a few weeks since the publication of the Labour Party’s ‘A New Britain: Renewing our democracy and rebuilding our economy’. Not only were we encouraged to see a political party place considerable effort into how we are collectively governed, but we were also delighted to see the CfGS’ call for Local Public Accounts Committees within. 

In the CfGS’ 2018 discussion paper ‘Local Accounts Committee’s – dealing with the governance of complexity at a local level’, we called for ‘a mechanism necessary to knit together accountability and responsibility at a local level’.  This is a result of a variety of, and on occasion, overly complex models of service delivery with differing levels of local accountability hardwired in at differing spatial levels. 

We remain of the view that LPACs, if properly designed and above all resourced, can be an integral part of ensuring the social value of public investment, to ensure priorities across a place are aligned and to open up more organisations and partnerships to a culture of accountability and transparency.  We share this paper to address some of the criticisms that the model could bring whilst being as, if not more supportive, of the concept back in 2018. 

The clear purpose of LPACs should be to hold to account the delivery of public services by organisations working together across a locality, and to investigate the value for money of those services.  They should have express powers to bring about improvements to culture, and to the way partners use local information alongside a forensic approach to value for money. 

Onward have done some intricate work in this field.  In the ‘Age of Alienation’ report it highlighted that, worryingly, nearly half of millennials believe that army rule would be a good way to run the country.  Furthermore, in more recent research on public trust, it concluded that if people trust one another, a series of other benefits occur, not least that democratic engagement is strengthened.  As the public purse is squeezed even more, investment in democracy may not be at the top of our national wish list.  But the CfGS believes that many of the sharp challenges we face in our democracy need tackling.

As an organisation, we believe in elected member led democracies. By placing additional responsibilities on elected representatives to safeguard the public purse will lead to better outcomes and provide visible leadership on matters of local significance.   To that end, we believe that LPACs could be a fulcrum in the system in which to drive better cultures, better value for money, better decision making and above all, a better democracy.      

But How Do We Make This Work?

Democracy has a cost, but democracy also has a value.  A big one. 

We believe that arrangements in which to establish and manage local PACs should be undertaken at a sub-regional / Combined Authority Level to have impact and funding to operate a PAC at that level must be included in devolution settlements.  They will need a highly professional ‘secretariat’ with skills across democratic administration, policy, data/analytics, accountancy and audit. As a result, they are likely to cost in the region of £500,000.   The Committees themselves will meet in public and should be constituted by a blend of elected representatives (in the majority) supplemented by ‘standing’ non-executives and co-opted experts.   In addition to our 2018 work, we also believe that each Committee must create an annual report of their activities to be received by the Public Affairs Committee and to be laid before parliament. 


By Helen Mitchell, Senior Governance Consultant, CfGS