Letter: Watchdogs with teeth

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The Independent Online
YOUR leading article of 11 March, which criticised the National Audit Office's report on water pensions and suggested that there is disparity in the rigour of treatment between local and central government, was uncharacteristically inaccurate.

When dealing with the improper use of public funds, the NAO also names those responsible. Recent reports on English Heritage and Swansea Institute of Higher Education illustrate the point.

Other than the work of district auditors, which is by definition specific to individual councils, the Audit Commission prefers to focus on best practice. When dealing with matters of value for money, as the water pensions report did, the Audit Commission, far from naming and shaming, have a policy of naming only those authorities which fare well in their assessment - poor-performing authorities remain anonymous.

When comparing NAO reports with those of the Audit Commission, it is important to remember that, unlike the Audit Commission, the NAO report is but the first stage in the process. NAO reports form the basis of a public interrogation of the responsible officials. Try telling Peter Davis, the former Director General of Oflot, that the NAO/PAC process lacks bite.

In the past week we have had a hard-hitting NAO report on the sale of the rolling stock companies and a very strong Public Accounts Committee report on the Child Support Agency. These hardly indicate a tendency to pull punches.


Chairman, Committee of Public Accounts

House of Commons

London SW1