Ministers must be held to account if policies go wrong, says think tank

Conservative former Cabinet minister Dominic Grieve said he hoped the recommendations would be acted upon. Picture: PA
Conservative former Cabinet minister Dominic Grieve said he hoped the recommendations would be acted upon. Picture: PA
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Ministers should be forced to explain themselves to MPs if policies go wrong - even if they are no longer in office, according to a think tank.

The Institute for Government (IfG) has demanded scrutiny be beefed up by allowing Westminster select committees to recall MPs for a grilling.

The IfG report suggests the architects of policies - such as the “hostile environment” or failed probation reforms - should be directly held to account to strengthen public faith in institutions.

IfG senior researcher Benoit Guerin said officials could also be called on, particularly when foreseeable risks were not flagged up to the minister.

He said: “Governing has become increasingly complex, but that is not an excuse for negligence.

“The public’s dissatisfaction with the Government’s response to Windrush and other scandals shows that there are dangerous weaknesses in the current accountability system.

“These can be addressed, and we suggest steps the Government should take to strengthen accountability.”

Other recommendations include clarifying what people get for the money spent on public services, improving specialist skills across Whitehall to prevent repeated failures, and better scrutinising the links between local public services.

Public Accounts Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier welcomed the report, which she said echoed many of her own recommendations.

The Labour MP said people need to be willing to “step up” when things go wrong and there should be more pre-scrutiny of plans to prevent taxpayers’ money going to waste.

She said: “These are all big challenges for the Government which it needs to take notice of and take action on, and I hope it will carefully consider the IfG’s report.”

Conservative former Cabinet minister Dominic Grieve said he hoped the recommendations would be acted upon.

“The report highlights serious and systemic problems that seem to beset the civil service and its relationship with politicians and ministers which are capable of being addressed,” he said.

“They have the capacity to greatly improve the quality of governance that we can deliver.”

Sir Ian Cheshire, the Government’s lead non-executive, added the recommendations would improve the governance of the civil service so it is “better equipped to meet the challenges ahead”.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “The Government is proud of its commitment to continuing to strengthen accountability mechanisms, including through the recent introduction of accounting officer system statements.

“Ministers’ accountability to Parliament and the public for the decisions and actions of their department is deeply rooted in our constitution and set out in the Ministerial Code.”