Dame Margaret Hodge MP Presents the Key Note Address at the LLG Stakeholder Reception

Publish date: 27/06/2018

Dame Margaret stressed the need to put the public good at the heart of evidenced based decision making and further, that central government could learn some lessons from local government's commitment to openness and transparency.

Dame Margaret Hodge MP addressed the guests of LLG at the Law Society last week with an entertaining and thought provoking talk detailing the lessons she had observed throughout her illustrious career.

The first female Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Dame Margaret amusingly noted that, upon her appointment, there had been more attempted assassinations on the chair of the public accounts committee than on Presidents; and more sent to prison than any other parliamentary position. Indeed, it was interesting to learn that Harold Wilson once held the position ( which may or may not have had anything to do with the fact it came with its own private office as opposed to a shared room for backbenchers at the time).

Referencing her time and noting the limited powers at hand, those called by the committee would be sent invitations and, on refusal, instructed to attend. Historically, if ignored further, individuals could be dragged to the floor of the House of Commons, chastised and locked away in a little room under Big Ben for the purpose whilst they reflected on their behaviour. Admittedly, this hadn't happened for some time. But Dame Margaret did stress that whistle-blowers were essential and key to the work undertaken given the challenges in obtaining evidence.

Moving to Local Government Dame Margaret considered it outrageous that it bore the brunt of the austerity measures and went on to say that accountability in local government was so much better than central government. Pointing to a more effective process for determining policy, Dame Margaret pointed to the approach of 3 key office holders giving advice to the council as opposed to numerous civil servants giving advice to government. Picking up on LLG's recent response to the Ethical Standards Regime, Dame Margaret informed the room that the Code of Ministerial Responsibility was first determined at a point in 1918 when there were significantly less central government civil servants compared to over 400,000 in 2017. The notion that ministers can therefore be accountable for everything is questionable.

The challenge now is how you can do more for less. Dame Margaret said that new ideas are coming out of local government all the time. There is a perception that private is good and public is bad but the Carillion disaster demonstrates that we should not be led by ideology. The skills to run private contracts are very different, but a blend of the two, where citizens are at the heart of how services are delivered can make a difference. Referencing David Cameron, Dame Margaret closed with commentary on the tremendous waste within central government and quoting David Cameron's; "sunlight is the best disinfectant", drove home the need for transparency and openness across the public sector.

LLG wish to extend their deepest thanks and appreciation for Dame Margaret's attendance and company.

Brief Biography of Dame Margaret Hodge MP

Dame Margaret was elected a councillor in 1973, rising to be leader of the London Borough of Islington from 1982 to 1992. She became the Labour member of Parliament for Barking in June 1994.

Dame Margaret was the first elected Chair of the Public Accounts Committee in 2010 and was also its first female chair. She held the post for the full parliamentary term, retiring in 2015. During her tenure as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee she followed the taxpayer's pound, scrutinising government spending and analysing corporate tax avoidance.

In 2017, she co-chaired the Fawcett Society's Local Government Commission and undertook a review of the Garden Bridge Project for the Mayor of London.

Dame Margaret currently chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Responsible Taxation which aims to help Parliament build and maintain a fair, sustainable and transparent tax system.