March 2023
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Is the National Audit Office less ‘corrupt’ since Sir John “Junket” Bourn retired?

The National Audit Office (NAO) is meant to ensure that taxpayers’ money is well spent. It has just issued a report on the Government’s Universal Credit project. The NAO slammed the project for being badly-managed, wasteful, having failing IT systems and for officials not having a clue what they were doing. (In my experience, this description could be applied to anything done by Britain’s useless, overpaid, over-pensioned public-sector bosses).

However, the NAO has not always been so critical of major government projects. Those of you who read Private Eye will know that the previous head of the NAO, Sir John Bourn, had a bit of a reputation for accepting “hospitality” from many of the companies that were making billions from their involvement in new Labour’s many hopeless schemes. “Coincidentally” the NAO was not exactly scathing of the projects on which these companies worked.

Sir John Bourn, the Government’s spending watchdog, also spent £365,000 of our money in travel expenses and £27,000 of our money on restaurant bills in just three years as head of the National Audit Office. We paid for 43 foreign trips in three years. The fragrant Sir John was often accompanied by his equally fragrant wife. They travelled first class on 22 separate occasions including to San Francisco, the Bahamas, Brazil, Lisbon and Venice, at a cost of £76,000 (click to see picture more clearly)

He had also enjoyed 164 lunches and dinners since 2004, including meals at the Ritz, Savoy, Dorchester, Wiltons, Mirabelle and Bibendum

One stunning example where the NAO seemed to be ‘careful’ with its criticism was the disastrous NHS IT project – the ludicrously-misnamed Connecting for Health (CfH). In 2006, the NAO issued a report on CfH calling it the best-run public-sector project it had seen. Reviewing the NAO report, a member of the Public Accounts Committee described it as “gushing”. Unfortunately for Sir John’s NAO, a couple of months before his organisation was heaping so much praise on CfH, my book PLUNDERING THE PUBLIC SECTOR was published. In PLUNDERING I spent two chapters explaining why CfH was a pathetically-managed, disjointed mess destined for complete and buttock-clenchingly expensive failure.

About a week before the gushing NAO report was published, I got a phone call from Sir John the Junket’s secretary inviting me to a meeting with him. I would have thought that with all his important work commitments and many junkets, Sir John would be a very busy man with a full diary. But strangely, he was free to see me at almost any time. Luckily for me, my co-author on PLUNDERING (Richard Brooks from Private Eye) was able to attend the NAO meeting with me. This meant that the great Sir John had to be a bit careful about what he said. But I still got an absolute roasting from Sir John and a few of his obsequious underlings for being so critical of the NHS CfH wonder-project.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, after about eight futile years and after spending perhaps £10bn of our money, the ghastly CfH was deservedly scrapped. Sir John, of course, retired with honour and a massive pension that we’ll be paying till the day he and his good lady wife depart this earth (while I live in poverty because only a few of the readers of this website can afford to buy my latest book GREED UNLIMITED).

So, why was Sir John’s NAO so positive about the CfH project when it was clear to me and my one contact on the project that the whole thing was a complete and utter nightmare? Were Sir John and the NAO just completely incompetent? Or were they influenced by the fact that CfH was one of Tony Blair’s pet projects and by Sir John’s many junkets provided from companies lucratively involved in CfH?

We’ll never know the answer. But in my humble opinion, Sir John was just like most of the bureaucrats who rose to prominence and thrived under New Labour – Sir David Nicholson, the fragrant Baroness Ashton, Mark Thompson at the BBC and many many more – corrupt, self-serving, politically-obedient, overpaid, over-pensioned greedy garbage. Sir John has thankfully retired to spend more time with our money. Sir David Nicholson will be going soon. But the rest of our public sector is still full of these (IMHO) complete scum.

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