Comptroller and Auditor General

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:01 pm on 6th March 2019.

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Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, The Cotswolds 3:01 pm, 6th March 2019

I am delighted to catch your eye in this important but short debate, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I first served on the Public Accounts Committee between 1997 and 1999, under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend Mr Davis. Since September 2017, I have served as its deputy Chairman. There is probably only one other Member of this House—my hon. Friend Mr Bacon, who is sitting beside me—who has served on the PAC during the tenure of both Sir John Bourn, the previous Comptroller and Auditor General, and Sir Amyas Morse, the current holder of that office. Of course, they were both very different. In some ways the job has evolved with changing circumstances, such as the review of the whole of Government accounts, but in other ways it has not; the NAO’s basic auditing function and its value-for-money reports are exactly the same as when I first joined the PAC. Each CAG and each Chairman of the PAC has different ways of working.

Under the excellent chairmanship of my hon. Friend—as I call her for this purpose—Meg Hillier, the CAG and the NAO are much more available to give briefings to Members and answer their queries than they ever were in the old days. The briefing session before each PAC hearing and the appointment of lead members has made the Committee’s huge workload—with public sessions twice weekly—manageable for its members. It also means that they are able to specialise, so the Committee’s work is much more professional. Together with the excellent work of the NAO, those changes have led to the Government accepting approximately 80% of PAC recommendations.

Departments could and should make better use of the information that the PAC and the NAO provide. The PAC is probably the most important Select Committee in this House and it’s whole raison d’être is to scrutinise the entirety of Government expenditure. That is reinforced by the convention that its Chairman is always an Opposition Member.

The CAG is a parliamentary appointment that is then approved by the Government, as in the motion so graciously moved today by the Prime Minister. I thank her for being present, given all the multifarious and difficult responsibilities that she has at the moment. Her presence demonstrates just how important an appointment it is.

That brings me to the appointment of the 17th Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr Gareth Davies. Having chaired his pre-appointment hearing at the PAC on 21 January, I have no hesitation in endorsing his appointment. There was an extremely strong shortlist, but he emerged as the best candidate. The CAG is instrumental to ensuring that Parliament is able to carry out its financial scrutiny of the Executive via the PAC, with the support of the NAO, so the vacant post was advertised to a very wide talent pool. The shortlisted candidates then underwent a technical assessment with the Auditor General for Scotland and extensive interviews and testing with a diverse panel of NAO staff. The process was stringent, and I believe that it has found an excellent successor to Sir Amyas Morse.

There can be no doubt about how eminently qualified Gareth Davies is for the job. He has more than 30 years’ experience as a public auditor and has worked at a senior level both in public services and in central Government. A University of Cambridge mathematics graduate, he qualified as a chartered accountant in 1992 and then worked in audit for several local authorities across London and the south-east, as well as for the Department of Health. Since 2012, he has served as head of public services at Mazars LLP, before which he was a managing director at the Audit Commission.

It would be wrong not to record my thanks to the departing CAG, Sir Amyas Morse, for his unparalleled and invaluable work. Under his tenure, the National Audit Office has been at the forefront of scrutinising the Government’s preparedness for exiting the European Union, so it has been influential in shedding light on the scale of the task that lies ahead. Where necessary, Sir Amyas has been unflinching in his criticism of the actions of Government Ministers, or the Government as a whole. It has been an immense pleasure to work with him, and I wish him well in whatever he decides to do in the future. He was not only extremely technically qualified for the CAG’s work, but unfailingly courteous. He will be missed.