HC Deb 13 May 2002 vol 385 c502
38. Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

What assessment he has made of the resources the National Audit Office would need to enable it to conduct pre-contractual analysis of PPP proposals. [53999]

Mr. Alan Williams (Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission)

In the past four years, the NAO has reported on the value for money achieved by more than 25 public-private partnership projects. The resources made available to the NAO will continue to include provision to enable it to continue its work in that important area, but the NAO does not envisage conducting pre-contractual analysis of PPP proposals. That would involve it in departmental decision-making processes and compromise its independence.

Mr. Marsden

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but it is a pity that the NAO is not prepared to reconsider, not least in view of the welcome statement of the future head of the civil service on openness in that area. Does my right hon. Friend think that there would be value in the NAO being involved in that ongoing monitoring with the civil service? That might, on occasion, enable doors to be shut before rather than after the horse has bolted?

Mr. Williams

That view is based on a misunderstanding of the NAO's role. The NAO's independent status is guaranteed by its non-involvement in policy. If it were to be involved in policy, that would be against its remit and would deprive it of its impartiality in carrying out its audit and value for money functions. Statutorily, the NAO is not allowed to do what my hon. Friend asks.

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)

Although the NAO will not look into bodies such as those mentioned by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden), extra-Executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies will have to be audited by it. What further resources will the NAO have for that?

Mr. Williams

In fact, as a result of the Government accepting the Sharman committee report, which makes all quangos susceptible to NAO audit, I have invited the NAO to submit a supplementary programme to me for us to consider in June or July so that we can increase the monitoring of quangos and Government companies.