Saturday, 28 May 2011

Referism - The Consolidated Fund Account Standing Services

Dr Richard North at EUReferendum has recently been developing a new political philosophy for individuals to gain control of government for their benefit instead of the benefit of politicians and bureaucrats. It works on the basis that nothing can be done without money and proposes that an annual referendum is held on government spending. Hence Referism.  It's a great idea for real democracy.

As old-school civil servants like me learnt, the government uses a device known as the Supply Procedure to seek authority from Parliament for its spending each year.  (Here's the detailed explanation of how government seeks annual approval for its expenditure plans from Parliament). The running and resource costs of each department are set out in a Consolidated Fund Bill in December which releases funds from the Consolidated Funds Account at the Bank of England and two Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bills  passed  in March and July which  apportion funds  between departments. The Consolidated Fund Bill  authorises the Vote on Account of 45% of the present year's spending for the next financial year before what is termed the Main Estimates are confirmed in the July Consolidated Fund (Apportionment) Bill which becomes the Appropriation Act No.2. Here is the Appropriation Act 2011 passed in March. They are all passed on the nod after select committee scrutiny, which means that even MPs and the bishops & barons (who give assent) don't have a say.  It's rare to even have a debate on the three Estimates Days. It's a tribal, whipped arrangement. Referism would mean that the electorate would vote on the July Apportionment Act No.2 to confirm it. There would need to be some legislative and financial rejigging to include the winter and spring supplementary estimates and the statement of excesses for the previous year.
More pernicious to democracy than the Appropriation Acts is the Consolidated Fund Account Standing Services. These are charges which are exempted from any need to be voted annually by Parliament  because it has, by statute, permanently authorised the payments. They include, for example,

"the salaries of members of the judiciary, expenses of holding general elections, United Kingdom contributions to the budget of the European Communities, Standing Service payments for political and public salaries and pensions include Speakers, Opposition Leaders, Whips and the offices of high ranking officials, which include the Comptroller and Auditor General, Parliamentary Ombudsman and Information Commissioner."

Note how much trouble and influence the above have recently caused. Why shouldn't they be subject to the same voter control as other heads of expenditure? The resolution of judicial independence with accountability will have to be an annex to the 953 page report.

Please accept my apologies for endlessly editing this post because every time I read it over I found it necessary to recheck facts and redraft for clarity such is the apparent complexity of the process and the vagueness of wikipedia. It's as if the Whitehall and Westminster closed shop doesn't want outsiders to know what's going on behind the smoke and mirrors and jargon. And then I came across this admirably clear House of Commons Library briefing paper prepared for our MPs.

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