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Sarah Wood, speaking to a conference of CIPFA members in Scotland said she had her ‘doubts’ about the £78m project but she ‘could justify the figures’.

Meanwhile, at the same conference, Andrew Welsh, chairman of the Scottish Parliament’s new audit committee, described the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster as a ‘rubber stamp’ for the work of the NAO and ‘superficial’.

Welsh is keen to play up the differences in public sector audit north and south of the border and believes passionately that public sector audit arrangements in Scotland provide better ‘accountability’ than at Westminster.

Welsh said ‘something different was wanted for Scotland’, that new arrangement there would ‘provide lessons for elsewhere’.

NHS accounts are back in the public eye after it was revealed they narrowly missed qualification only when they were forced to deviate from new accounting rules. Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO, said the NHS’s position could have been substantially worse if agreement had not been reached with the Treasury to postpone implementation of two new rules.

If just one the new rules had been adhered to the NHS might have lost an estimated £366m extra. However, Sir John revealed forecasts which show the health service facing an deficit of £200m for the year 1999-2000.

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