Accountability is the obligation to explain to someone how well you have met your responsibilities.
Those responsibilities may be for the outcome of a programme or the custody and use of assets (such as goods, intellectual property, land and buildings, people and money). Such an obligation may arise from law, regulation or contract. It is one of the seven principles of public life that holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office (see Standards in Public Life).
The systems to ensure accountability vary between parts of the public sector. But the main principles involved require that managers responsible for public assets should ensure:
- Regularity – this means you must use public money, and other resources, in accordance with the authorising legislation and any applicable delegated authority, and only for the purpose for which it is given you. The audit of regularity provides your funders – whether Parliament, Government, councillors – and, ultimately, tax payers with assurance that the money they have given has been used for the purposes it was intended for;
- Propriety – this means the way money is spent, or paid to others to spend, is in accordance with the way public business should be conducted. While regularity is concerned with compliance with appropriate authorities, propriety is concerned more with standards of conduct, behaviour and corporate governance; and
- Value for money – this means the optimal use of resources to achieve the intended outcomes. Finding solutions that achieve this does not mean choosing the cheapest option. [Note]
Note: Treasury Officer of Accounts, Regularity, Propriety and Value for Money, HM Treasury, 2004