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Leaving the EU: National Audit Office

Volume 671: debated on Thursday 6 February 2020

3. To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission what assessment the Commission has made of the effect on the work of the National Audit Office of the UK leaving the EU. (900637)

If you will forgive me, Mr Speaker, having served for 18 years as Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission and the Committee—I am standing down now—I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the National Audit Office, the Comptroller and Auditor Generals I have served with—Sir John Bourn, Tim Burr, Sir Amyas Morse and Gareth Davies—and the whole staff of the NAO and the Clerks who have served the two Committees. It is calculated that, during this 18-year association, we have saved £14.2 billion of public money—I just wish we were on commission.

In answer to my hon. Friend, the NAO’s work programme, which is determined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, is regularly revised to ensure it reflects current issues. The UK’s departure from the EU is of course a major task for Departments. Since 2016, the NAO has published 27 reports on various aspects of the preparations made by Departments. Departments have commented positively on the value of that work in assisting their preparations.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his 18 years of exemplary service.

For all the problems of the Brexit process, rarely has a Government Department been set up for a specific defined purpose that is ultimately time-limited, but that is true of the Department for Exiting the European Union. Will the National Audit Office conduct an inquiry into the lessons learned from the establishment of that Department?

Absolutely. I am sure the Comptroller and Auditor General, who is completely independent in what inquiries he undertakes, will certainly want to do a report on the value for money of that Department and, perhaps, of our exit from the European Union in totality.

With particular reference to Commonwealth countries, what does the right hon. Gentleman believe is the result of work carried out? How can we do more to see better guidelines in place and in operation throughout?

That is a very good question. Clearly, the NAO, which is not concerned with policy matters but with economy and efficiency, will have its focus laser-like on how we can ensure, both in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the United Kingdom, a good exit from the European Union, good outcomes and, above all, value for money. There is no doubt that a very large sum of money could be wasted—for instance, in the recruitment of extra civil servants. We will have to ensure that we look laser-like at getting value for money.