Clause 8 - Preparation of consolidated accounts for providers

Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 14th September 2021.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

Clause 8 places a duty on NHS England to prepare, in respect of each financial year, a set of accounts that consolidate the annual accounts of English NHS trusts and foundation trusts. The transparency of financial reporting across NHS providers will be diminished without this provision, as the consolidated provider accounts collate the financial reporting of all NHS trusts and foundation trusts to give an NHS provider position that is laid before Parliament, and has been since the 2017-18 financial year.

In addition, NHS England has a duty to provide a copy of the consolidated accounts to the Secretary of State and the Comptroller and Auditor General, and a duty to lay copies of the consolidated accounts and the related report before Parliament. To ensure adequate financial scrutiny, the Secretary of State has the power to give directions to NHS England on the principles and methods to be applied in preparing the accounts and their content and form, and can direct that the accounts must be accompanied by any reports or information deemed necessary. The Comptroller and Auditor General must, as their responsibilities stand currently, examine, certify and report on the consolidated accounts and send copies of the report to the Secretary of State and to NHS England.

The provisions set out in this clause not only provide continuity to the system but place in law strong levels of oversight relating to both NHS trusts and foundation trusts. That ensures the transparency that we would all wish to see and the robustness of the process and procedures governing financial health at a local level. This clause is an important way of ensuring NHS England discharges its responsibilities as system regulator in delivering appropriate and adequate stewardship of the health system and, ultimately, public money.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

Again, we will not oppose the clause, but I have a query about the powers under proposed new section 65Z4(4), particularly in the context of what the Secretary of State said at the weekend about targets being a lot of form-filling and nonsense. It seems rather odd to give himself powers to direct trusts to provide any reports or information that he requires when, clearly, the Secretary of State gets all sorts of information and reports from the NHS at the moment. Could the Minister say what he is not receiving at the moment that he thinks the powers will allow him to ask for?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I consider proposed new subsection (4) to be purely pragmatic, as there will be circumstances with individual trusts and situations where clarifications to accounts or data may be required. Therefore, it is prudent to give the Secretary of State the power to ask for further clarification. He will be accountable to Parliament for how the money is spent, so it is entirely appropriate that he has explicit power, given by Parliament, to ask for information over and above the de minimis specified in the Bill, to ensure he can be completely transparent with Members and the public more broadly.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.