Thursday, October 25, 2007

About Time

Dear Sir,

I resign
Yours etc

So Sir John Bourn has finally stepped down. And it only took five months from when it first became quite obvious to everyone else he had to go (last May - see this blog).

Still, now he's gone.

The NAO must never again find itself in a similar situation, so the rules must be changed.

Expense rules have apparently already been tightened. Good.

But there also needs to be a complete ban on any NAO staff accepting corporate boonies. As we blogged here, companies fund boonies purely to get traction and influence over recipients. It is wholly inappropriate for the taxpayers' auditor to accept such things. Bourn should never have fallen for the opera and the grand prix freebies, and going forward there should be a complete ban.

More fundamentally, there needs to be a normalised and open procedure for appointing and removing the Comptroller and Auditor General. Simply fixing the retirement age would prevent anyone holding the post for ever (Bourn is 73). But Parliament also needs a practical way of dismissing the CAG before then.

Currently, that's very difiicult. Because of the NAO's unique constitution, Bourn could not be removed except by an arcane procedure involving "HM The Queen on an address from both Houses of Parliament"- the address quite possibly needing to be written on ceremonial goatskin and conveyed by the Postillion-at-Arms riding backwards to the Palace (see this blog). That has to be changed.

Leading PAC member Richard Bacon has indicated the Public Accounts Commission is fully seized of all these issues and changes will be made. We'll see what they come up with.

Meanwhile, Bourn's deputy Tim Burr has taken over, but only until the reforms have been implemented.

The sooner the better.

PS At least we now know why Sir John wasn't at yesterday's PAC.

PPS The Major's just steamed in asking if Bourn's been paid off? A good question. Normally at 73 it wouldn't even arise, but given the NAO's arcane set-up we should assume nothing. Better do some more digging.

Update: Over on Your Right to Know, the indefatigable Heather Brooke points out Bourn is the first Whitehall head to roll from FOI. So he's made the history books.

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