As the UK’s independent public spending watchdog, we at the National Audit Office (NAO) continue to fulfil our statutory duties to support Parliament during this challenging time. We are mindful of the pressures COVID-19 is placing on government and local public services, and so we are being careful not to compromise the emergency response, while providing Parliament and the public with timely reporting to support accountability and learning.
We intend to carry out a substantial programme of work to meet Parliament’s accountability requirements. This will include looking at government preparedness for the pandemic, spending on the direct health response, and measures to protect businesses and individuals from the economic impact.
We start this month with a factual summary of the Government spending commitments and programmes relating to COVID-19. We are also preparing a factual report for June that will update on progress with key government actions across health and social care, as set out in Sir Simon Stevens’s and Amanda Pritchard’s letter to NHS and foundation trusts, and in the Action Plan for the adult social care sector.
While these initial reports will be factual rather than evaluative, we anticipate that they will still provide a robust basis for Parliamentary scrutiny through the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). In the meantime, recent and forthcoming PAC sessions taking evidence on some of our latest reports, including on local authority commercial investment and NHS financial management and sustainability, provide Parliamentarians with an early opportunity to question senior civil servants and others on the Government’s response to COVID-19.
Looking ahead, we are identifying a risk-based series of evaluative studies for future publication. These will be targeted on areas where we think there have been particular challenges and where the evidence suggests that there is most to learn, including aspects related to local government.
At the time of writing the data suggests that, thankfully, we are past the peak of COVID-19 cases, but there remains a long road ahead, both to put the pandemic behind us, and to help Parliament to build an evidence-based picture of the Government’s preparations for and response to the pandemic, and its support for the subsequent recovery.
Abdool Kara is executive leader for local services at the National Audit Office