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Comptroller and Auditor General

Volume 477: debated on Thursday 19 June 2008

I have been asked to reply on behalf of the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission. He last met the Comptroller and Auditor General on 4 March, when the Commission considered the National Audit Office estimates for 2008-09. The issues discussed included the lower rate of increase in the NAO’s estimates than in previous years, the appropriate balance between in-house auditing and outsourcing of audit work and the Commission’s response to the Tyner review of the NAO’s corporate governance.

Sir John Bourn, the previous Comptroller and Auditor General, recently excoriated senior civil servants for what he called their profound incompetence in handling defence programmes, taxation schemes and private finance initiative projects. Can my hon. Friend assure the House that Sir John’s successor will ensure that the NAO watchdog, which has so often failed to bark, will sink its teeth into those matters—not least PFI, which is prohibitive in cost, flawed in concept and intolerable in consequence for the taxpayers, citizens and employees in our land?

My hon. Friend is a most assiduous auditor of the auditors, and he was kind enough to send me Sir John Bourn’s remarks, which I shall take the trouble to circulate to the Public Accounts Commission and the Public Accounts Committee. However, I have to remind him that that is the work of the Public Accounts Committee. The Commission audits only the budget to see that the NAO can carry on its work.

Sir John Bourn’s reflections were the serious reflections of a distinguished public servant on his life’s work at the NAO. The new Comptroller and Auditor General has already taken over the ongoing programme, which includes the audit of public procurement projects by the Ministry of Defence and across Whitehall, for example on food procurement, the use of consultants, IT procurement and, of course, PFI contracts. We have issued several hard-hitting reports on that, and that work will go on. However, I must tell my hon. Friend with a tinge of sadness in my voice that PFI is a Government policy.