PracticeAuditSpies’ director set for December PAC grilling

Spies' director set for December PAC grilling

The Commons Public Accounts Committee is to cross-examine Government Communications Headquarters director David Pepper on huge overspending by the UK's top secret electronic eavesdropping organisation.

Link: Spies’ accounts in danger of qualification – again

Pepper and Cabinet Office secretary Sir David Ormand will appear before the all-party committee on Monday 1 December to answer questions on the reasons for the £308m cost of relocating their computer systems to a new building – three times the original estimate – in a PFI deal.

It follows an NAO report critical of the overspend and comptroller and auditor general Sir John Bourn’s qualification of the annual financial statement for Britain’s spooks, recording operating costs of just under £1bn in 2001/2002.

He said he had been ‘unable to obtain all the information and explanations that I considered necessary’ on the resource accounts of Government Communications Headquarters – which were themselves kept secret.

His report – which was merely ‘seen’ by chairman Edward Leigh under ‘normal arrangements’ which he reported to the committee – lead to formal questions in the Commons from certified accountant MP Harry Cohen to which prime minister Tony Blair gave minimal responses.

The arrangement under which Pepper is appearing – the committee are understood to have agreed to limit the scope of their questions to the immediate point at issue – raises the possibility of other spy chiefs being asked to explain unidentified weaknesses which internal auditors identified in their accounts.

The PAC is acknowledged to be the most powerful and influential of the Commons committees.

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