MAJOR investment is required across departments to deal with problems caused by a “lack of forward thinking” from Government, the head of the Commons spending watchdog has warned.

Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairwoman Meg Hillier issued a report which focuses on three major recommendations for a future government.

These include long-term thinking and investment, resilience, and risk management and understanding.

The report outlines major spending problems, dubbed “the Big Nasties”, that Government will have to grapple with, including poor infrastructure in hospitals, schools and prisons, and a skills deficit across departments.

Hillier, a Labour MP, warned that funds for long-term projects being used for day-to-day spending has created systemic problems requiring significant investment.

The report stated: “Government does not do enough to plan for the long term, or to provide long-term investment for its policies.

“This not only causes problems now but leaves problems that will be critical in the future.

“Lack of forward thinking means leaving problems that are more costly and more urgent until they get to a point where they can no longer be ignored.”

The Government needs to improve its ability to plan ahead, the report found, stating: “Failure to embed resilience into policies has caused major problems, which will cost time and money to resolve.

“The five-year electoral cycle leads to a belief or hope that a catastrophic incident will not take place on our watch.”

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In relation to health, Hillier found that NHS targets for waiting times have not been met for four years, and targets for cancer services not met for six years, which, combined with an ageing population, means more will need to be invested in treatment and prevention.

Hospital buildings were flagged as a major issue that is preventing the NHS from modernising and hampering productivity.

The Department of Health and Social Care was accused of “raiding” capital budget funds, and the report warns against any future reduction in capital investment to plug gaps in day-to-day spending.

The National: Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier

Similarly in education, Hillier (above) warned that a lack of long-term investment has resulted in over 700,000 students learning in a school that needs major rebuilding or refurbishment, and 38% of school buildings are beyond their initial design life.

The report stated: “The Department for Education does not have a good enough understanding of safety risks, including asbestos and reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), across school buildings for it to fully quantify and mitigate them.”

Hillier highlighted that primary and secondary schools are struggling to cope with numbers of students with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) despite 81.3% of local authorities overspending their high-needs budget in 2017–18.

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If unaddressed, Send children would remain in a “postcode lottery”, unable to receive the same education as mainstream peers.

The report stated the Ministry of Defence has “repeatedly made decisions on short-term affordability grounds which have increased costs in the longer term and led to poor value for money”, adding that the department “has not had the discipline to balance its budgets”.

In relation to justice, Hillier said the Government “consistently underestimates the scale and complexity of reforms” necessary to decrease court backlogs.

As with health and education, infrastructure was flagged as a major problem for the Department of Justice, with the report saying that 500 prison places each year were taken “permanently out of action” due to poor conditions.

With local government spending falling by more than 50% from 2010/11 to 2020/21, the report stated local authorities were “under severe financial pressure”.

Hillier also raised areas requiring spending across departments, including a lack of specialist skills and replacing outdated IT systems.

According to findings in the report, in 2018/2019 the Government spent an estimated £980 million on management consultant fees to fill the skills gap. It adds: “The lack of skills must be addressed otherwise there will be huge risks to delivery of major capital projects”.

Commenting on the report, the SNP’s economy spokesperson, Drew Hendry MP, said it “lays bare the reality of broken, Brexit Britain”.

He said: “It is a damning indictment of the Tory government’s decade-long wasteful approach to taxpayers’ money and disregard for public services – and it should serve as a wake-up call to an incoming Labour government.

"It makes clear that Sir Keir Starmer’s plan to stick to Tory tax and spending plans won't deliver change and it won't fix broken, Brexit Britain. By sticking to Tory spending plans, he is actively choosing to continue the decimation of public services, and the entrenchment of poverty and inequality. 

“Labour’s own Meg Hillier details in the report that long-term investment in public services should be a top priority for the next UK government, as well as addressing staffing shortages, which have been caused by Brexit.

“Yet by sticking with Tory austerity measures and u-turning yesterday on his plan to renegotiate the Brexit deal, Starmer is stifling public service investment, stunting economic growth and ruling out a solution to plugging labour shortages.