Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sir John Bourn should resign

It's good to see the Liberal Democrats championing a cause that is at once shamelessly populist and wholly justified.

Norman Baker is calling on Sir John Bourn to resign as head of the National Audit Office following revelations about his expenses. As Norman says:

"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 someone in this post.

The full details of Sir John's high living were in this morning's Guardian. For those who missed the front-page story, here are a few highlights:
  • 175 lunches and dinners since 2004 with permanent secretaries, directors of big accounting companies and defence contractors at the Ritz, Savoy, Dorchester, Brown's Hotel, the Goring Hotel, Cipriani, Bibendum, Wiltons, Mirabelle and The Square. The bills, nearly all for two people, vary from £80 to £301. Many of the bills came to between £150 and £220. One bill for four people - two from the NAO - at Wiltons was £500. In the past six months, he has spent £1,651.56 on meals.
  • Entertaining by large defence contractors and accounting firms included a visit to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on July 8, paid for BAE Systems, the company caught in a corruption investigation over a Tanzanian defence order. Sir John has refused to release an NAO document on BAE's biggest and most controversial defence order, the Al Yamamah defence deal with Saudi Arabia.
To me this looks like an example of someone in a prominent position wanting to have it all. Being one of the great and good can bring with it all sorts of pleasures like opera tickets and fine dining. But if you accept a position such as head of the National Audit Office then you have to be careful about how much hospitality you accept and whom you accept it from. It appears that Sir John lacked the judgement or the self-control to do this.

Incidentally, Norman also has his teeth into the Speaker. It turns out that Michael Martin has spent more than £20,000 of public money on retaining the solicitors Carter Ruck to challenge negative press stories about him. And there have certainly been enough of those.

Stormin' Norman says:

"Of course it's right that there should be legal advice available to all members of the House of Commons.

"But in this case it appears the very expensive Carter-Ruck has effectively been used to issue press releases and that those instructing them have been content to sign blank cheques irrespective of the cost to the taxpayer."

No comments: