Clash looming over role of NAO

The Public Administration Committee pushed for NAO reports to be offered to other select committees instead of remaining the monopoly of the Public Accounts Committee.

The Public Accounts Committee traditionally defends its exclusive access to the NAO, arguing that it is a forensic committee divorced from the current policy issues in which departmental committees are involved.

A wide-ranging report, ‘Making Government Work’, backs the Public Accounts Committee?s call for the NAO to follow public money to assess the effectiveness of policies even when monies are transferred to the private sector.

‘Classical audit work and approaches still have some way to go before they are as comprehensive as they should be,’ the report insists.

But the MPs said they had received evidence of ‘an audit and inspection explosion’ with one crime prevention chief complaining he had more PIs – performance indicators – than PCs – police constables.

The Public Administration Committee also pressed for the adoption of compliance costs assessments – already used to assess the impact of legislation on business – to be extended to the public sector.

‘We believe that a full review is now needed of the whole world of audit, regulation and inspection so far as the public sector is concerned, in order to ensure that the arrangements in place are coherent, consistent and appropriate,’ the committee said.

But it was also concerned at the lack of effective monitoring of performance information from government departments.

It said the government’s annual report distributed through supermarkets is welcome but ‘strongly presentational’ and demanded that the statements it contains are independently verified.

The NAO, which is limited to assessing what the government has done rather than having any role in evaluating policy, was the subject of a further recommendation that suggested the formation of a new national body to perform a wider policy review function.

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