The spending watchdog and his lavish ways – paid for by the taxpayer

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Indy Politics

The head of Britain's most senior public spending watchdog rejected calls to quit yesterday after details of his expenses revealed that he has spent nearly £27,000 on restaurants in the past four years.

Sir John Bourn, the head of the National Audit Office (NAO), was criticised by MPs after it emerged he ran up "gigantic" bills at some of London's top restaurants and spent nearly £17,000 on travel this year alone. In June, Sir John was cleared of any wrongdoing after spending £336,000 on international travel over three years. His wife accompanied him on 22 of the trips.

Expenses published yesterday by the NAO showed he regularly spent more than £100-a-head for lunch and dinner at leading restaurants such as Wiltons, Brown's Hotel, Bibendum, and The Goring Hotel.

His expenses for this year include an £86.01 lunch for two at Bibendum, Sir Terence Conran's flagship restaurant in Kensington in June, followed by a £199 dinner for two that evening at Wiltons fish restaurant in London's Jermyn Street. The next day, he joined a colleague to entertain two guests with a £222 lunch at The Goring, said to have been the Queen Mother's favourite hotel.

His travel expenses this year included an £8,593 trip to San Francisco, accompanied by Lady Bourn, for a global working group of auditors general, and a £1,718 trip to Venice, also accompanied by his wife. He made trips alone to Belfast, Moldova and Kazakhstan.

Also released were details of the hospitality Sir John received from major firms, including attending the British Grand Prix as a guest of BAE, the firm at the centre of a controversy over the huge al-Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia, and attending a polo event as a guest of the government computer supplier EDS.

Overall, the figures released yesterday show Sir John dined contacts on 164 occasions between 2004 and April 2007, at an average cost of £154 a time.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat Cabinet Office spokesman, said: "It is incredible that Sir John Bourn has seen fit to run up gigantic bills for largesse at the taxpayers' expense. Even more serious is appearing to accept hospitality from companies such as BAE which compromises the independent and professional standing essential to... this post. The time has come for him to call it a day in the interests of good administration."

But a spokesman for the NAO said Sir John would not be standing down, although he would no longer take first-class flights or travel with his wife without parliamentary approval.

Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: "Civil servants will choke on their sandwiches. They are delivering front-line services and are constantly having the mantra of efficiency put on them. They will look at these lunches and travel expenses and be shocked."

An investigation by the Public Accounts Commission in June found "no evidence of impropriety" and that Sir John had acted "in accordance with the existing rules". But it introduced new rules, equivalent to those governing senior civil servants, stipulating that spouses should only accompany officials on trips in exceptional circumstances.

The good life...

RESTAURANT BILLS

* 2 April: Lunch for two at Brown's Hotel in London with a representative from an outside organisation – £126.00

* 23 April: Lunch for two at Santini with a senior government official – £103.16

* 30 April: Lunch for two at The Goring with a senior government official – £106.75

* 15 May: Dinner for two at Brown's Hotel with a representative from an outside organisation – £231.00

* 23 May: Lunch for two at the Great Eastern Hotel with the representative of a government supplier – £117.96

* 11 June: Lunch for two at Bibendum, above right, with a senior government official – £86.01

* 11 June: Dinner for two at Wiltons with a senior government official – £199.00

* 12 June: Lunch for four at The Goring – two guests and an official from the National Audit Office – £222.64

* 14 June: Lunch for two at Brown's Hotel with parliamentarian – £120

* 18 June: Lunch for two Wiltons with representative of government supplier – £210.94

* 27 June: Lunch for two at Locanda Locatelli with a representative from an outside organisation – £128.10

TOTAL: £1,651.56

TRAVEL

* 10 to 15 April: San Francisco with Lady Bourn (Auditors General Working Group conderence) – £8,593.69

* 26 to 27 April: Venice, below left, with Lady Bourn (Financial Services Authority conference) – £1,718.60

* 10 to 12 May: Lisbon with Lady Bourn (seminar) – £2,217.31

* 7 June to 8 June: Belfast (public audit forum) – £455.88

* 11 to 15 SeptL: Kazakhstan (bilateral visit) – £2,723.03

* 26 to 28 Sept: Moldova (bilateral visit) – £1,290.20

TOTAL: £16,998.71

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