PracticeAuditBehind the numbers: life after Bourngate

Behind the numbers: life after Bourngate

The National Audit Office won’t look back on 2008 with much fondness

Its reputation was badly dented by the unfortunate scandal around the
expenses of former boss Sir John Bourn, whose standing as Whitehall’s value for
money tsar was undermined by his predilection for first-class travel and
five-star hotels.

But the government auditor can look forward to 2009 with more confidence
following the pre-Christmas appointment of Sir Andrew Likierman as its first
chairman under the new governance structure ushered in in the wake of the
Bourngate saga.

Sir Andrew cuts a quietly impressive figure. I first interviewed him 15 years
ago when he became head of the government accounting service. He was tasked with
ending centuries of cash accounting in Whitehall and running the business of
government along commercial lines. That he achieved.

Just as his appointment then marked a change with the past (he succeeded the
more establishment Sir Alan Hardcastle, a former Peat Marwick partner), so does
his ascendancy to the top of the NAO.

Sir John was a committed public servant and a highly effective Whitehall
mandarin. Sir Andrew has spent longer in the private sector than in the public.
Most recently, as well as a distinguished academic career, he has been a
non-executive director at Barclays Bank and the Bank of England, a position from
which he will now step down.

His private sector experience will serve him well. But more than that his
decade as, effectively, the government’s FD will make him a formidable chairman.
Not only does he know the workings of the audit office better than most, he
understands – intimately – the often arcane working of government accounting and
where value for money can perhaps be better realised.

Now the hard work begins. The appointment is part of a wider review of the
NAO, with legislation slated to usher in further change. A board will have to be
recruited and the senior auditors will have to prepare for a cultural shift.
Nevertheless the initial aims of the governance review have been delivered.

In Sir Andrew, ‘a chairman with sufficient authority and independence from
the comptroller and auditor general to challenge him or her when necessary’ has
been found.

Damian Wild is editor in chief of Accountancy Age and
blogs at
accountancymatters.accountancyage.com

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