A Study of the Devolved Public Accounts Committees of the UK

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Accountability had become a cultural icon of modern democracies where a more educated and less deferential public demand that mechanisms are in place to ensure that powerful institutions are responsive to the public. Select committees are one such mechanism. Westminster Committee of Public Accounts (PAC) is the oldest committee of the House of Commons. This is a prestigious high profile committee, described by Lord Hennessy (2001 p.332) as “the queen of select committees”, where senior civil servants and public officials are called to account for their stewardship of public funds. Devolution in 1999 resulted in the establishment of PACs in Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland. While devolution was promulgated as an opportunity to increase accountability, no comprehensive comparative study into the effectiveness of the devolved PACs has been undertaken. This thesis addresses that gap.
The accountability mechanism of PAC is examined from both a quantitative and qualitative approach using survey and documentary data in addition to interviews with high ranking stakeholders. Firstly, in an approach not previously employed in this context, the three phases of the mechanism, information, discussion and consequences are measured using a quantitative instrument “The Accountability Cube” (Brandsma 2010). Secondly, the factors contributing to committee success identified in the literature are explored through interviews. Additionally, the perceptions of the devolved PAC process are investigated using Q methodology.
​​​​​​​The study shows that the devolved committees were effective accountability mechanisms. The identified overriding prerequisites for an effective PAC of auditor independence, policy neutrality, and cross party working were evident in all the devolved committees, with cross party working being strongest in Northern Ireland. However, the findings show that the outcomes and consequences are less effective than other aspects of the process.
Date of AwardDec 2020
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorKarl O'Connor (Supervisor) & Anthony Wall (Supervisor)


  • Parliamentary Committees
  • PAC
  • Accountability

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