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National Audit Office

Volume 536: debated on Thursday 24 November 2011

3. What recent discussions the Public Accounts Commission has had on ways in which the National Audit Office can be made more effective and efficient. (82262)

The Public Accounts Commission discusses the NAO’s use of resources twice a year. Last November we endorsed its strategy for the three years from April 2011, which included plans to save 15% in nominal terms—21% in real terms—over that three-year period. The commission looked at the NAO’s efficiency gain in March when we examined its draft estimate. The commission will next meet on 7 December to consider the NAO’s proposed resource requirements for the three years starting in April 2012.

Have the hon. Gentleman and the commission considered introducing the same sort of reforms that the Government have produced for the Audit Commission? Has he considered using the big five private accountancy firms more widely, or has he learned some lessons from the disaster that is the Audit Commission reform?

All that has happened so far—we will discuss this at our meeting on 7 December—is that the Government have proposed that the NAO take over from the Audit Commission solely responsibility for the preparation and maintenance of the code of practice, which sets a framework for the audit of local bodies, together with associated guidance for local auditors. The NAO will also be able, when reporting to Parliament on the activities of central Departments, to examine the impact of policies administered by local bodies. The NAO is making preparations for those potential areas of work. We will give it sufficient resources to enable it to do that work responsibly and properly.

When the National Audit Office produces excellent reports, such as the recent report on flood defences, would my hon. Friend consider allowing the Select Committees concerned to debate their contents and conclusions, rather than just the Public Accounts Committee?

My hon. Friend makes a good suggestion. She knows that I was, in a previous incarnation, Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. We were keen, and remain keen, for the National Audit Office to extend its work so that it reports not just to the Public Accounts Committee but to all Select Committees. I am happy to take her suggestion back to the National Audit Office.

The hon. Gentleman is underselling himself. He served with great distinction as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee for two Parliaments.