National Audit Office Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office

National Audit Office

Sir Edward Leigh Excerpts
Wednesday 1st July 2020

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Cabinet Office
Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP) - Hansard

The SNP too welcomes the appointment of Dame Fiona Reynolds to the role of chair of the National Audit Office. We appreciate the involvement of Caroline Gardner, as Auditor General for Scotland, in the appointment panel, which is good. We are sure that, given Dame Fiona’s previous role in the Council for National Parks, she will have a good ability to see the wood for the trees in holding the Government to account. I look forward to her doing so with her great skill and experience.

Sir Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con) - Hansard
1 Jul 2020, 2:43 p.m.

I too welcome this appointment. Clearly, the candidate is very well qualified.

For those not familiar with the structure of the NAO board, it is very different from any other board in any other company, or in the public sector, in that it does not set policy. When we created the current structure, we made it clear that the board would not interfere in the absolute right of the Comptroller and Auditor General himself to determine what he should investigate.

I think that this role is going to become increasingly important, because the chair of the board will have to lead it in its decisions to give the NAO adequate resources to deal with the very difficult position that we find ourselves in with the massive increase in public spending that is going to arise as a result of covid-19. For every £1 the NAO spends it saves £9, but there is going to be a lot of work, and a lot of extra resources need to be given to it.

Politicians tend to be obsessed with policy, of course, but efficiency is all the more important when we are rapidly increasing spending. When we rapidly increased spending on the NHS under the last Labour Government, we found that there was a dramatic decline in productivity. Without getting involved in policy, the chair and the Comptroller and Auditor General will have a crucial role in ensuring efficiency. I can see the Prime Minister sitting in front of me. I know that he will want to ensure that he appoints somebody in every Department who is a well-qualified finance officer to ensure that as we increase spending, we do not increase waste.

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith (Arundel and South Downs) (Con) - Hansard
1 Jul 2020, 2:42 p.m.

It is an honour to support the Prime Minister on the motion to appoint Dame Fiona Reynolds as chairman of the National Audit Office. It is rare that this House makes such an appointment, and so I wish to add my support as one of the new generation of Members.

In an era where we spend almost £4 in £10 of the national income, it is imperative that we spend it effectively, not to return money to the Treasury coffers but so that we can deliver the healthcare, education, police, armed forces and infrastructure that our country needs. This appointment is a vital part of how we achieve that, because it means that this House, independent of Government, has the ability to draw back the curtain and to see the facts as they are, not as we might wish them to be. That is a cornerstone of the rule of law under a sovereign Parliament. This right dates back centuries, but we owe it in its current form to William Gladstone—a great moderniser and disruptor who, we should note, was not afraid to make changes to the machinery of government in order to deliver for the working people of Britain.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) on securing a candidate of great calibre and unimpeachable independence. Having devoted much of her life to the world of conservation, Dame Fiona clearly takes the long view. I wish her many years of effective service in the knowledge that she has our full support.

Question put and agreed to.