Overview: a family matter

The Revenue & Customs Prosecution Office is a new body, so you might have
thought that comptroller and auditor general Sir John Bourn would have given it
a bit of leeway when he tackled its first set of resource accounts to
parliament. Not a bit of it.

Sir John raised the employment of COO Dave Partridge’s wife, saying his staff
thought it ‘novel and contentious,’ and he laid into the department’s poor
accounting procedures for paying lawyers.

What’s happening?

The RCPO was created in the wake of the London City Bond case and the fallout
from them. Previously, Customs & Excise prosecutors had been part of the

But after the City Bond case, where the lines between informers and
participants in a major alcohol duties fraud had been blurred, Lord Butterfield
recommended an independent judicial body.

Set up in 2005, the body’s first accounts have been shot down in spectacular
style by Sir John. Not only did he raise the payment of £27,000 to the wife of
the chief operating officer, Dave Partridge, for work as an HR consultant. He
also qualified the accounts for the unconvincing accounting for lawyers’ fees.

The department was still receiving invoices for work done in 2004, making it
difficult to ascertain whether the 2005/06 numbers were good approximations, and
there was also no prior agreement on how much counsel was going to be paid for
particular cases.

What’s going to happen?

The department’s head honchos have a date before the Public Accounts
Committee, the body that scrutinises government accounts, and can expect a rough
ride from the committee, which is chaired by Edward Leigh MP, no shrinking

The committee, meeting on May 2, will want to ask about the payment to
Partridge’s wife and, perhaps, probe the comings and goings between the NAO and
the Treasury. Sir John Bourn’s staff queried the payment, saying it should have
gone through the Treasury. The chancellor’s department did subsequently approve
the payment.

The department is doing something to sort out its problems. It has
established an internal audit function; improved month-end processes; and has a
new system for processing lawyers’ fees which Sir John said ‘should improve the
department’s ability to manage this key element of its expenditure.’

‘It’s a fair cop, but we’re sorting it out’ is bound to be the line; whether
or not that works when you’re on the receiving end of a tax fraud investigation
is another thing entirely.

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