Sharman: ‘If it aint broke…’

The almost universal approval, with now one apparent exception, for Holding to Account would suggest that it has struck the correct balance between retention and reform. It would appear Sir Peter Kemp does not share this view.

My recommendations recognise the axiom ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ while indicating how certain anomalies may be eliminated and improvements might be beneficially introduced.

In the second recommendation of my report I suggest that external people sit on departmental audit committees. This would be a useful innovation and certainly deals with the criticism that there is no suggestion of bringing in more private sector people.

While the NAO’s suggestion that it should make its financial work subject to routine scrutiny by the Joint Monitoring Unit – which I endorse via a recommendation the results be made public – is clearly a significant step forward in the cause of transparency, the issue of efficiency has long since been dealt with.

The National Audit Act of 1983 requires the NAO’s auditors to carry out regular value for money studies on the NAO and I suggest these might be made publicly available.

My report does not go into the conflict between consultancy and audit work at the Audit Commission. This is for the simple reason that the review was of central government audit and not the commission, which audits local bodies. It was not in the terms of reference any more than a brief to look at the merging of the NAO and Audit Commission.

As for the idea that I should have considered whether the NAO should examine such issues as leaving the ERM or the bombing of Iraq, I am astonished.

These are clearly party political points that have no place in a reasoned review of a study designed to improve central accountability, not debate policy issues.

On page five of Holding to Account the terms of reference are clearly stated. There is no mention of the appointment of a new head of the NAO or indeed the disciplining of civil servants. All of these, Sir Peter unilaterally feels ought to have been covered.

The report sought to emphasise the positive and make improvement where required.

It is not a matter of Lord Sharman being ‘got at’ (an impossibility) rather that Sir Peter has just not ‘got it’.

  • Lord Sharman is a working Liberal Democrat peer and former KPMG chairman.

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