Parliament’s on a bit of a roll at the moment. It’s again become the place where things happen, even with little legislation going through the House of Commons currently. There was an urgent question this morning asking why the head of the Student Loans Company was paid via a company without tax being deducted. It has led to Danny Alexander announcing a review which will conclude in March and call for any similar arrangements in government to be wound up immediately.
I suspect the chief secretary to the Treasury is not enjoying the session. Our current MP of the Month, Margaret Hodge (find our article here) was prominent among Alexander’s interrogators, with the chair of the public accounts select committee wanting to know if the chief sec would report to the house on “HMRC’s role in this”. As you will see in our interview with Hodge, she does not pull her punches on the state of HMRC. In our article she accuses the head of HMRC of lying – a charge he denies, I must point out.
But Hodge has also been sent a letter by the former head of the civil service, Gus, now Lord O’Donnell. The excellent and very well-connected Whitehall watcher Sue Cameron of the Daily Telegraph, has the scoop, of which I quote a paragraph below, but do read the whole thing here.
'I hear that the letter is written in measured language but that it’s a snorter none the less. It expresses dismay at Mrs Hodge’s treatment of officials appearing before her committee – particularly accusations, direct or indirect, that civil servants have lied to MPs. Lord O’Donnell is also unhappy about Mrs Hodge’s attempts to flout the longstanding convention that civil servants are answerable to ministers, not MPs (with one exception, of which more in a minute). Lord O’Donnell’s letter, I’m told, reflects outrage among the permanent secretaries – Whitehall’s top officials – who raised the issue at their regular Wednesday morning meetings. 'The way Margaret Hodge has been bullying officials is totally unacceptable,' said one insider. 'It’s also counter-productive. Until now, senior officials have done their best to co-operate with MPs on select committees, but if this goes on then departments will stop taking committee reports seriously. They’ll say, 'Oh it’s Margaret Hodge grandstanding again, take no notice…’.'
Hodge told us that she found the PAC role 'very stimulating'. She adds 'One goes into politics to make a difference, and if you can’t be in government making a difference, then this is the best job to have in opposition. I’m relishing it'. She now faces a big fight with the civil service. But this also shows the importance and impact of select committees right now.