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Public Accounts Commission

Volume 667: debated on Thursday 31 October 2019

The hon. Member for Gainsborough, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, was asked—

HS2: National Audit Office Progress Review

5. What the timeframe is for the publication of the National Audit Office’s progress review on High Speed Two. (900273)

Before I answer that question, Mr Speaker, I would like to thank you for your friendship over the years. I do not always agree with you, but in this place, John, friendship is more important than agreement, so thank you very much.

The NAO expects to publish its progress review of High Speed 2 in early 2020. The NAO expects to examine progress since its last value-for-money study in 2016, the reasons for cost and schedule increases, and the risk to value for money that remain.

In his bombshell report, Allan Cook, the chairman of HS2, admitted publicly that HS2 was billions of pounds over budget and years behind schedule. Quite frankly, given HS2’s poor corporate governance and the rapid turnover of not only senior staff but Ministers, who are supposed to have oversight of this project, may I encourage the NAO to provide an in-depth report on the financial operations and probity of HS2, and can this report be made available to Douglas Oakervee, who is carrying out the Oakervee review of HS2? That review should not report until it has had the advantage of the NAO analysis, and I hope that this project will then be cancelled or radically changed.

Of course the NAO will not get involved in the political argument about whether the programme is wise, but it has already reported three times on HS2. It found that the cost and benefit estimates underpinning the business case were uncertain, and addressed the weaknesses in the business case and in the estimate of the cost of land. I assure my right hon. Friend that the NAO will leave no stone unturned to ensure we get value for money from this project, if it proceeds.

Order. Colleagues, I would like to accommodate all remaining Questions on the Order Paper, but we must also consider those waiting for subsequent business. I do not intend or wish to be guilty of any discourtesy to colleagues in that regard, so I appeal to colleagues who are being accommodated late to be pithy. In so far as we have taken up time because people have been extraordinarily nice about me, while that is enjoyable for me, from this point on it is unnecessary.

Leaving the EU: National Audit Office

6. What assessment the National Audit Office has made of the potential effect on its work of the UK leaving the EU. (900274)

Brexit is, of course, a major task for Departments. Since 2016, the NAO has published 26 reports on aspects of Brexit. Most recently it has published reports on the UK’s border preparedness for Brexit and on Brexit’s implications for the supply of medicines to the health and social care sectors.

My right hon. Friend and I represent neighbouring and largely Brexit-supporting constituencies, and of course we want to get Brexit done as quickly as possible, but can I ask how the NAO will approach post-Brexit financial audit?

The NAO wants to get the Brexit work done as quickly and efficiently as possible and has been working with all Departments to assess the potential impact on their financial performance of the decision to exit the EU. The exact impact in the current year may depend on the outcome of negotiations.