Government reneges on NAO-BBC pledge

THE GOVERNMENT has gone back on its commitment to give the National Audit Office unfettered access to BBC accounts, according to a Commons committee.

Members of the culture, media and sport committee said they were “very concerned” that the government has failed to deliver on its coalition agreement pledge to allow the auditors to access the broadcaster’s accounts.

The committee “urged” the government to listen to concerns from comptroller and auditor general Amyas Morse.

Morse has complained of a lack of statutory right of access, which would limit the auditors’ access to material covered by the Data Protection Act. He also objected to a requirement for the NAO to inform the BBC Trust before it decides on its programme of work and the BBC’s demand for this to be decided on an annual basis.

The auditor general also warned that he could not agree to annual plans beacuse this would fail to protect the NAO’s flexibility to react to changing circumstances.

Morse expressed disappointment that NAO reports should reach Parliament through the BBC Trust and culture secretary Jeremy Hunt MP, which raised the possibility that the trust or Hunt could redact material or decline to publish the report and give the BBC a “unique” chance to respond before reports have been considered by MPs, he added.

Morse also called for the NAO to be made the BBC’s external auditor.

Hunt refused to give statutory access or compel the BBC to appoint the NAO, observing that the NAO could compete for the contract when it is up for renewal next year.

A report from the committee said: “We urge the government to address the concerns expressed by the C and AG and to reach an agreement that will give the NAO all the powers it needs to provide independent assessments of the value for money of BBC expenditure.

“These should be reported to Parliament rather than to the secretary of state through the BBC Trust,” it added.

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