Public Sector – Watchdog backs NAO

The National Audit Office won support from parliament?s newest watchdog for its campaign to gain access to the accounts of private contractors.

The move follows the NAO?s victory against national lottery operator Camelot, which the government ordered to open its books to NAO officers.

Robert Sheldon, chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, created after the election to advise parliament on tackling waste and fraud in the public sector, said he had lobbied the government to increase the NAO?s powers.

He said he had joined up with David Davis, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee – the main parliamentary watchdog – to persuade the government that private companies should be open to investigation after winning contracts with Whitehall departments and agencies.

If the government agrees, companies such as EDS, which operates the Inland Revenue?s self-assessment system, could face NAO scrutiny. Firms which provide consulting to government departments could also be forced to reveal their accounts and internal accounting records.

In a written answer in the House of Commons last week, Sheldon recommended a guaranteed right of access because ?where access is not provided for in the relevant contracts, the Comptroller and Auditor General may be unable to check that public funds have been used as parliament intended and with due concern for regularity and value for money.?

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