The country’s most powerful public spending watchdog has a new chairman in
Margaret Hodge. The former PwC consultant has been controversial as both a
council leader and government minister in the past. Will she be equally
high-profile as she supervises the audit of government departments?
With a change in government comes a similar clear out of the Parliamentary
select committee staff. The old chairmen step down and new ones come in. This
time was the inaugural outing for elections to appoint the chairmen. After some
fairly energetic electioneering Margaret Hodge, former consultant, one-time
Islington council leader and once a minister in the Labour government found
herself chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
This is the body of MPs that examines the management of public money and
holds officials, some of them Whitehall mandarins, to account for their work. It
does this through audits carried out by the National Audit Office (NAO),
possibly the best research organisation available to anyone in Parliament or
Hodge has a reputation for taking no prisoners and being forthright in her
views. When leader of Islington Council she was known as “Enver” Hodge, after
the Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha. While there she also became embroiled in
controversy over claims the council failed to respond adequately to allegations
of child abuse in the borough’s care homes. One man accused her of being
ultimately responsible but Hodge was forced to apologise for a letter she wrote
in which he was described as “extremely disturbed”.
She became a consultant with PwC from 1992 to 1994 and then entered
Parliament viewed as a solid Blairite. She became children’s minister but moved
when the controversy over Islington’s care homes emerged. In 2005 she became a
minister at the department of work and pensions. Perhaps her most notable
success came in the recent election in which she defended her seat against the
BNP. Hodge won emphatically with a majority of more than 16,000.
What happens next?
After becoming PAC chairman it was not long before Hodge was once again
dealing with controversy. The Guardian reported that the NAO had spent £80m on
refurbishing its offices. It also reported that the Budget was signed off by
Parliament but Hodge was quoted saying she was “taken aback” and asked,
rhetorically, “who evaluates the evaluators”.
The big question is just how candid Hodge will be. It would not be unexpected
if she used the NAO’s reports to become even more strident in passing comment.
Either way we can be assured that Hodge’s time at the PAC is unlikely to be
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