Friday, June 08, 2007

Prolonging A Limp-Wristed Cock-Up


It doesn't have to be a long letter
Private Eye is having another go at Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office (htp DS).

A couple of weeks back it unmasked him as yet another first-class freeloader (see this blog). Today it questions how good he's been at doing his job:

"Why won’t the National Audit Office (prop: Sir John Bourn) audit the grossly expensive PFI to see if it offers value for money or not? And why was it so limp-wristed condemning the waste of politically high-profile cock-ups like the NHS IT programme?

Serious scrutiny of public spending in Britain seems to have become very comfortable under Sir John’s 19-year reign. But then he has been very busy on his travels, speaking at bean-counters’ symposiums abroad while attempting to win records for staying in as many of the world’s most expensive hotels as possible (surely “generating international auditing work for the NAO”? Ed.)"


Ever since we started seriously investigating government waste, we've been impressed with Sir John. We liked the cut of his jib, and enjoyed his dry contributions to PAC meetings. So the Eye's original revelations were a shock, and as we blogged last week, we think he should now do the honourable thing and resign.

But the charge that he's been limp-wristed in the cock-up department is even more serious. Has he been? Have we been too uncritical?

Last June we blogged the NAO's surprisingly uncritical report on the disastrous NHS Supercomputer, about which Sir John was specifically quizzed at the PAC. At the time, we gave him the benefit of the doubt (eg see this blog), but it subsequently transpired he had indeed been nobbled by the DoH (see this blog).

And the Eye is right on PFI. There have certainly been critical NAO reports (eg on the shambolic Paddington Basin hospital project- see here- and Norwich Hospital- see here), but we have not had a block-buster report drawing it all together and asking if the taxpayer has had value. We may all know the answer already, but it's the NAO's job to chase down chapter and verse and post up the conclusion in twenty foot high letters. It hasn't done so.

As we said before, it's all very disappointing.

There's only one course for Sir John, and we can't understand why he's prolonging the agony.

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