The possibility of the NAO carrying out value for money studies on behalf of the Treasury was raised by financial secretary Ruth Kelly after she announced legislating implementing some remaining recommendations contained in the Sharman report, extending the powers and scope of the National Audit Office.
Kelly said orders were being laid before parliament following Treasury agreement to protocols proposed by the C&AG on how he will exercise his extended remit.
Kelly announced the move during debates on a series of Public Accounts Committee reports and delighted PAC Chairman Edward Leigh with what he described as ‘very welcome news’.
Earlier he pressed for action ‘very shortly’ after pointing out therecommendations were made by Lord Sharman nearly two years ago and urged ministers to go further to include the BBC, the Queen’s Civil List and private sector firms paying tax credits to claimants.
Leigh also warned the committee will pursue former heads of government departments for cross examination over failures when they were the responsible accounting officers – even after retirement – where simply quizzing a successor was insufficient to ‘get to the bottom of things’.
He said: ‘I know that that is controversial in Whitehall; the mandarins do not like it.’
PAC veteran Alan Williams said there was no substitute for questioning the person in the post at the time, adding: ‘I know that the head of the civil service and his permanent secretary colleagues are not very happy but they must recognise that accountability to parliament comes above their sensitiveness and sensibilities.’
Kelly said Bourn was content with the proposed regulations.
She added that the government would support any changes that are possible to allow the NAO access to non-departmental bodies in forthcoming companies legislation.
She said the government is also considering recommendations on access to the BBC.
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