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James Wild MP: Parliamentary committees hold government departments to account

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Naturally much media reporting of Parliament focuses on debates in the Chamber and set piece events such as Prime Minister’s Questions.

They are incredibly important for debating the issues of the day and for MPs to hold the Government to account.

However, less noticed is the detailed work of Parliament that happens in the select committees that scrutinise government departments.

The Houses of Parliament.
The Houses of Parliament.

I have the privilege to be a member of the Public Accounts Committee, the oldest select committee, which scrutinises the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of public spending. As a member of the committee, I am able to represent the interests of people across North West Norfolk when we consider value for money for the hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ money spent each year across all departments.

During this year much of our focus has been on the incredible £400 billion of spending on the response to Covid including Test and Trace as well as the support provided for individuals and businesses.

While a common theme has been a lack of planning for such a pandemic, once the scale of Covid-19 became clear departments put in place support rapidly which evolved as we learnt more. Some decisions such as the procurement of PPE and an over-reliance on consultants raised questions over value for money. The urgency of the situation led to more rapid and collaborative decision-making. The lack of data, such as on the number of ventilators, underlined the importance of having complete and accurate datasets.

So there are many lessons to learn – no doubt the public inquiry will offer more – about planning for high-impact events.

Over the year, my committee also looked at a range of other areas including the BBC, Special Educational Needs, gigabit broadband, welfare fraud, HS2, local government, and consumer protection. Before Parliament went into recess, we scrutinised the Department of Health and NHS’ plans to tackle the treatment backlogs. 5.8 million people are waiting for elective surgery (planned procedures like hip replacements and cataract operations) and cancer care.

In Norfolk and Waveney, 106,014 people are waiting for elective surgery with 12 per cent waiting for more than a year - 10 times as many as the best performing NHS Trust.

In September 2021, the Government announced that an additional £36 billion for health and social care over the three years from 2022-23 which includes an extra £8 billion for elective recovery.

I supported this new funding – which was opposed by other parties – but it is important that it delivers in getting people the treatment they need. In the hearing I challenged the NHS on improving performance in Norfolk and Waveney and urged the Department to be more activist in holding NHS leaders to account. Patients and taxpayers would expect nothing less.

Next year our programme includes bounce back loans, women in the criminal justice system, academies, regulation of private renting, and local economic growth. Getting value for money for your taxes is a big responsibility and one that I will continue to focus on in 2022.

Happy new year!

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