Posted on March 4, 2020 by Lord Michael Bichard
It’s difficult to believe that I have been the Chair of the NAO for nearly six years, but all good things come to an end. Because the term of office is limited by statute, I shall shortly be stepping down. In fact, the advert for my successor is now public.
This has been one of those jobs which I shall look back on with great affection. For a start it has allowed me to work with people of the highest quality who have a real passion for what they do. At the same time I have been able to stay close to the key issues of government and to play a part in shaping the direction and strategy of the organisation, at a moment when the independent role of the NAO has never been more important.
Whether through its financial audit or value for money work, the NAO has played a unique and invaluable part in safeguarding governance, promoting the more efficient use of scarce resources and clarifying the ever more complex accountability arrangements that now surround the delivery of public services. I am especially proud of the way in which we have maintained the quality of our work and courageously exposed failings when they have occurred. Without the NAO the public would have been much less conscious of the problems with universal credit, the cost and delays of Crossrail, the vulnerable state of local government finance and the mismanagement of several major IT projects.
At the same time, we cannot be complacent. As the previous Comptroller and Auditor General memorably said, “we have to be much more than mortuary attendants”. Rather, we need to play a full part in helping to improve the quality of public services and to use the knowledge and information we have to that end. That’s why I have constantly emphasised the need for us always to be looking to add value and to measure our success by the impact we make. Are things changing for the better as a result of our work? For me the answer to that question is still not enough.
As one of our stakeholders said during the current Strategic Review, “you know more than you tell”; using our knowledge to best effect has to be a priority as we move forward. In truth, any great organisation knows there is always more to do. That is why our strategic review is so important and why the arrival of a new Comptroller and Auditor General provides exciting opportunities.
I have greatly enjoyed working with two brilliant Comptrollers and my successor will want to quickly establish a strong relationship with Gareth Davies to support him in dealing with the many external challenges which the office will face as well as driving through the organisational changes we need.
Chairing the NAO is a privilege and a chance to make a difference to the way our public services are delivered. I am stepping down reluctantly, but I know there are others who share my passion for the work we do, and I hope that they will think about taking on the role.