Senior civil servants avoid scrutiny by hiding behind ministers, says Margaret Hodge

The head of Parliament's financial watchdog calls for more accountability and transparency

Britain's most senior civil servants will today be accused of hiding behind their ministerial masters to escape blame for maladministration costing the taxpayer billions of pounds in waste.

Margaret Hodge, the head of Parliament's powerful financial watchdog, will claim that civil servants are using the centuries-old convention of ministerial responsibility to make detailed scrutiny "ineffective".

And she will pledge to "reclaim" Parliament's authority to hold the executive to account by calling more senior civil servants to defend their decisions publicly in the House of Commons.

The intervention by Ms Hodge, chair of the influential Public Accounts Committee (PAC), will infuriate Sir Jeremy Heywood, the new Cabinet Secretary.

It comes after the PAC launched a high-profile battle with civil servants working for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) over what they claimed was a cover-up of "sweetheart" deals with multimillion-pound businesses, including Goldman Sachs.

In one case, Ms Hodge forced HMRC's most senior lawyer to take an oath on the Bible before giving evidence because she felt she had been unable to get straight answers from him. In a speech to the think tank Policy Exchange, Ms Hodge is expected to argue that the tradition whereby civil servants are accountable to ministers and ministers are accountable to Parliament is not working.

She intends to cite the case of Theresa May, the Home Secretary, who insisted she knew nothing about Border Agency staff relaxing border checks and blaming the action of her civil servants, who were not officially accountable to Parliament. "Civil servants escape external accountability because they are protected by the convention of ministerial responsibility and they escape internal accountability because ministers are powerless to hold them to account in any meaningful way," she will say.

"The senior civil service needs to acknowledge that we live in a different world from the world in which ancient conventions could prevail. Everybody wants greater transparency and accountability."

Ms Hodge will cite the cases of large public procurement projects examined by her committee which have often run significantly over budget but can pass from one administration to another.

"Of course it's uncomfortable when we unearth gaping holes in the governance and accountability of HMRC," she will say. "Of course the Government and the civil service will get cross if we identify huge potential cost overruns on aircraft carriers. Of course they hate it when we look at the Olympics budget in its entirety and warn that they could break their own budget limits.

"But for ministers to respond by asserting that we are straying beyond our remit is frankly pathetic. And for civil servants to hide behind their ministers will simply not do."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Foundation Primary Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are looking for Founda...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?