HC Deb 22 July 1996 vol 282 cc16-7
38. Mr. Steen

To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission how many statisticians were employed by the National Audit Office in each of the past three years. [36761]

Sir Peter Hordern (Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission)

The number of staff with degrees in mathematics and statistics in the National Audit Office at end of June was 28 in 1994 and 30 in 1995 and 1996. Full-time professional statisticians or operational researchers in post at the end of June numbered six in 1994, eight in 1995 and 11 in 1996.

Mr. Steen

That shows that the National Audit Office, which does a splendid job, is increasing its staff and the number of people on the public payroll. Will my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of the Audit Commission charging the people it audits sufficient money so that it can become self-financing? [HON. MEMBERS: "National Audit Office."] I understand that point. Or, it could contract out to the private sector, so that it does not need an increased number of civil servants. The problem is that it is constantly increasing its bureaucracy and costing the taxpayer more.

Sir Peter Hordern

What has happened is that the National Audit Office is employing many more professional people. That does not mean that the overall number of people employed there is increasing. The work of the National Audit Office is certainly increasing—not least because of the number of inquiries from hon. Members—and that is wholly to be welcomed. Hon. Members are much more interested in the activities of the National Audit Office, which explains the small increase in the estimates for the next two years. The House may be interested to know that the report of the commission into the activities of the National Audit Office will be available this week.

Mrs. Anne Campbell

Is not money spent on statisticians a good investment? Will the right hon. Gentleman also consider the example of the 1980s, when the Government reduced the number of statisticians, which led to Chancellor Lawson making some disastrous economic decisions from which we are probably still suffering?

Sir Peter Hordern

I do not know that the National Audit Office goes in much for economic decisions. Perhaps it is just as well that it does not. All that I can say is that, the more professional the National Audit Office is, the better it will be for the taxpayer and for the House.