Audit – Sheldon urges NAO power to follow all public money

The government has come under renewed pressure to extend the remit of the National Audit Office to cover the National Lottery, housing associations and other quangos currently exempt from its scrutiny.

Former Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman Robert Sheldon, MP, backed cross-party calls to beef up the NAO’s powers. He said it was ‘shameful’ the European Court of Auditors had rights to inspect the accounts of some bodies barred to comptroller and auditor general Sir John Bourn.

Sheldon, answering Commons questions as Public Accounts Commission chairman on the NAO’s behalf, said: ‘I hope the government will give urgent attention to the gaps in the ability of the NAO to follow public money.’

Cotswold Tory MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown called for the NAO to be able to audit individual housing associations in the wake of the collapse of the Harambbee Association in 1994 and the fraud investigations into the Focus and Circle 33 Associations in 1996.

Labour’s Dale Campbell-Savours called for it to be given the job of auditing the National Lottery, while Liberal Democrat David Heath asked to be given the right to examine accounts of all quangos by statutes.

Sheldon added that it was ‘shameful’ that an assortment of Department of Social Security accounts had been repeatedly qualified.

He called for its top civil servants to be carpeted by the PAC, after the accounts for major benefits expenditure had been qualified due to errors every year since 1988/1989, the National Insurance fund account had been qualified every year since 1987/1988, and the Child Support Agency client fundsaccount had been qualified each year since its creation in 1993.

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