HC Deb 03 November 1997 vol 300 cc15-6
34. Mr. Ian Bruce

What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the funds available for the National Audit Office. [11769]

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission)

The National Audit Office corporate plan for 1998-99 to 2002-03 showed an increase in net cash resources from £39.8 million to £41.5 million in real terms over the next five years. There will be considerable increases in work load in this period as a result of the introduction of resource accounting, greater examination of regularity and propriety issues and involvement in accounting and tendering procedures in public-private partnerships. The cost of the extra work will be partly offset by continuing efficiency savings.

Mr. Bruce

I thank the right hon. Gentleman—I hope that he is indeed a right hon. Gentleman because he certainly should be by now—for that answer. Does he agree that the National Audit Office gives good value for money and that its reports often lead to further savings? However, will the Public Accounts Commission consider whether we should put more funds into checking what is happening in local government? District auditors are supposed to ensure that the correct procedures are followed, but does the right hon. Gentleman agree that they sometimes get too close to local authorities and that many problems seem to be missed? Is it not time that we got to the bottom of what is happening in local government?

Mr. Sheldon

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the value for money that is obtained by the National Audit Office. It is one of the great ventures of the House, and since its introduction in 1983, it has succeeded in meeting all the aims of the National Audit Act 1983.

Local government is a matter for the Audit Commission. As Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, I have co-operated with the commission, but local government is entirely a matter for it, as are any proposals that it may make to the National Audit Office or to the PAC.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the excellent statement on public-private finance in the annual report of the NAO is drawn to the attention of all hon. Members so that they do not forget that the taxpayer has a vested interest when looking at all alternatives to the use of taxpayers' money to find out whether better value might be provided by remaining within the state system?

Mr. Sheldon

The private finance initiative report by the NAO is very important and will be considered by the PAC in due course. We await that examination.