Labour promises a `sleaze-buster in chief'

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Indy Politics
A new Labour government would have a new troubleshooter to investigative corruption allegations and take a much more active role in stamping out sleaze than the existing agencies.

In a speech to be given tomorrow, Derek Foster, Labour Civil Service spokesman, will outline plans to extend the role of the National Audit Office and its chief, Sir John Bourn, creating a "sleaze-buster in chief". Currently the NAO has a limited role, as it can only normally investigate events after they have run their course. Under the proposed arrangements, "the NAO would have a pro- active investigative role, introducing independent scrutiny into the heart of government".

Labour is keen to take advantage of the issue of sleaze, which has dogged the Tory government in recent years. Mr Foster will tell the Civil Service College tomorrow: "The present Tory administration is without doubt the most sleaze-ridden in living memory. The task of cleaning up government is formidable but it is a challenge Labour relishes." He says the NAO has already saved pounds 775m over the past three years and he wants to see the figure doubled.

Mr Foster wants Sir John to be able "to follow wherever the public money goes". While it currently audits some quangos, Mr Foster wants to see its remit widened to include all national public bodies and quangos, so that it can ensure taxpayers' money is not wasted. Mr Foster will tell the audience that the revamped NAO "will have the power to probe all government contracts at any point during a deal, as well as the pounds 60bn- per-year quango industry, bringing an end to the culture of confusion and secrecy that has robbed taxpayers of millions of pounds."

He cites the example of the Housing Corporation, which receives pounds 1bn from the Department of the Environment but which is audited by a private firm. Mr Foster says: "The NAO is therefore unable to provide assurance to the public that the social-housing programme is delivering good value for money".

In future, private firms taking over work previously carried out by the Civil Service will have to guarantee the National Audit Office access into contracts with private firms. Many of the suggestions have the support of Sir John, who has argued for an extension of his role.