In an unprecedented move, Edward Leigh has sent a letter to every member of the House of Lords, saying it was impossible to justify a situation where ‘the BBC spends some £2.5bn of television licence payer’s money each year but cannot be held properly accountable by parliament for the way it spends such an enormous sum of public money’.
He then gives assurances that scrutiny by the NAO would not interfere with the BBC’s editorial independence or quality of programming. ‘I cannot conceive of any circumstance in which the comptroller and auditor general (Sir John Bourn) would seek to second guess the BBC’s decisions as to the programmes they make, or their editorial content,’ stated Leigh in the letter.
Leigh wants the Lords to back an amendment to the Communications Bill, currently passing through the upper House, in what many see as a last-ditch attempt to get the BBC’s spending under public scrutiny. The move to do so has been given impetus by the 2001 Sharman report which advised the extension of NAO powers, including taking in the BBC.
Other recommendations from the Sharman Report will also get a hearing this week as a statutory instruments committee seeks to push through regulations making Bourn statutory auditor for 25 quangos, 19 special health authorities and giving him access to many documents.
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