Tory David Davis, chairman of the influential Public Accounts Committee, raised the concerns at a meeting yesterday in which Treasury chief secretary Andrew Smith was hauled over the coals as to why full legal right of access to at least 80 public bodies, spending around £3bn a year, could not be granted to the NAO.
Davis was supported by fellow committee member Charles Wardle who said the fact that head of the NAO, Sir John Bourn, did not have right of access to investigate the reports of fraud from government employees ‘weakened the system’.
The committee was questioning Smith on the Government Resource and Accounts Bill which is intended to introduce private accounting practices to government departments.
The committee unanimously believes the Bill should also be used to grant the NAO legal right of access to non-departmental public bodies funded with public money.
Auditors of the bodies are currently appointed by, and report to, ministers, not to Parliament as in the case of the NAO.
Davis described the issue of whistle-blowers as a ‘specific worry’ and urged Smith to take it into consideration. He believes the Bill may be in conflict with recent legislation to protect officers reporting fraud and malpractice.However, during the questioning, Smith said he was willing to ‘examine’ the issue but refused to concede ground on access for the NAO saying the Bill was only ever intended to introduce resource accounting.
The shouting is not over. The Bill is still to make its way through standing committee stage in the Commons.
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