The National Audit Office has warned that moves to have MPs’ expenses
subjected to a forensic audit may prove to be a potential minefield. The opinion
was revealed as the parliamentary body in charge of monitoring expenses
confirmed it would put the work out to accountancy firms for tender.
The NAO said that the measures, proposed to keep a closer eye on MPs’
spending habits, would be a ‘substantial, intrusive and costly exercise’ in some
The proposals are set to be thrashed out today at Westminster as the issue
goes to a key vote in the House of Commons, with MPs and watchdogs appearing to
be at odds.
Under the members estimate committee plan, MPs would have their receipts put
under the spotlight by auditors. While the NAO supported the move in principal,
the watchdog has drawn the line at some of the reforms.
It said: ‘In order to provide the required level of assurance, it is likely
that the programme of member assurance visits would be a substantial, intrusive
and costly exercise. (Several times the cost of the audit of the financial
MPs on the members estimate committee have recently been in meetings with
firms, the NAO, HM Revenue & Customs and a consultant formerly with the
ICAEW, in efforts to carve out a new MP expenses framework.
The estimates committee backed a version of the practice assurance model used
by the ICAEW to make sure that firms pass muster. This would involve regular
financial health checks on records and processes used in MPs’ offices by
‘outside professional teams’ covering 25% of members each year, and all members
by the end of each Parliament.
This would cost between £150,000 and £500,000 a year, the estimates committee
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