It was always going to be a difficult experience for Sir John. The PAC has
been gunning for the government on PFI for as long as man can remember and there
is as little hope now of a shift in policy as there was then.
Sir John was the latest in a long line of whipping boys to take a caning from
a select committee, while political masters are protected from the public
humiliation. Though a public mauling from MPs is probably nothing compared to
what the politicos back at base could do to a career.
Still, the accounting for PFI is a disgrace in its current off balance sheet
The PAC members know it, Treasury officials and politicians know it and the
general public knows it too.
What made me feel for Sir John was not so much the soft shoe shuffle he
performed in ducking some questions, but the suggestion by PAC chairman Edward
Leigh that Sir John was unprepared.
I would never dream of questioning Leigh’s readiness, but if he really wants
to find a body of people who need a dictionary to help them through the concept
of preparation he doesn’t have to look far.
The great secret of Westminster is that many MPs look as if they’ve given
little thought to their lines before strolling into a select committee and
posing questions that can only be basic.
This is possible, of course, because in select committees the shoe’s on the
other foot and it’s mostly civil servants up for a pummelling. Civil servants, I
find, are rarely unprepared. I never saw one who didn’t know in advance that the
beating would not be forever.
Gavin Hinks is the editor of Accountancy Age
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