Bourn impudent

Warning: bad language ahead.

I rarely read newspapers or magazines, but I do regularly pick up Private Eye. Lately, the Eye has done a terrific job uncovering the lifestlye – and that is the right word – of Sir John Bourn. He is the UK’s Auditor and Comptroller General: in other words he’s the go-to guy for making sure that public money is spent wisely and without waste or indulgence. If the National Audit Office says a service is efficient, it would be nice to think that it is.

Over the last few weeks, the Eye has unravalled the astonishing story of Sir John’s lavish expenses, all billed to the taxpayer. Wikipedia – of course! – has some of the goods here:

Records show that he has stayed almost exclusively in five star hotels[3], such as the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, the Astoria in St Petersburg, the Gresham Palace hotel in Budapest and the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh. Sir John’s flights were exclusively first class on long haul and business class on shorter visits[5]. The C&AG has also travelled to Croatia, Turkey, Jordan and Bulgaria for discussions or the launch of twinning projects involving co-operation between the NAO and other state audit offices. The records show that the couple [yes, he took his wife] enjoyed a week-long stay in the Bahamas last year to attend the Caribbean Organisation of State Audit Offices Congress.

A spokesman for Sir John claimed that he normally stays at hotels which are “recommended by the host organisation”[6], however an investigation by The Daily Telegraph suggests that on several of the most expensive trips, no such recommendations were made. Sir John’s expenses emerged after a freedom of information request by the Private Eye magazine.

Note the footnote references, that’s auditing the way I like it. This Week’s Eye catalogues more of Bourn’s fine dining experiences at our expense and asks whether he’s planning to pay income tax on what is transparently a form of payment-in-kind.

Here’s the Eye on what strikes me as the pinnacle of Bourn’s chutzpah.

Most gratifying of all, however, must have been a dinner at the Ivy hosted by the biggest consultant on the private finance initiative (happily endorsed by the NAO) and provider of services to the NAO itself, PriceWaterhouseCoopers. The occasion? A thank you for the judges, including Sir John, of PwC’s, er, “Public Trust Awards”.

Whilst many things bring joy to my life and confirm my faith in humanity, this kind of thing depresses and infuriates me beyond words.

The sheer shamelessness of this man is unfathomable. His casual induldgence points to a level of denial that is systemic. Do I need to spell this out: if this is the accepted behaviour of our Auditor Fucking General, what hope is there for probity in our public life?

Here’s what the browntongues at Number 10 tell us about Bourn, in a press release from 2006:

As journalists no doubt recalled the Prime Minister had announced last week that he would appoint an independent figure. Sir John Bourn was the highly respected Comptroller and Auditor General and he would now advise ministers on ministerial interests and if necessary establish the facts for the Prime Minister….

Asked about the remit of Sir John Bourn and whom he reported to, the PMOS said that it was a Prime Ministerial appointment. The role would be as described last week, which was to advise ministers and their permanent secretaries on how to handle issues surrounding ministerial interests, and if necessary establish the facts of a case for the Prime Minister.

The old cliche about lunatics and asylum feels inadequate. I doubt very much that our new Prime Minister is capable of any better judgement.

I was momentarly heartened to learn that today, Bourn has resigned. But then I read this pofaced explanation from the NAO, as reported on Reuters:

Bourn said in a statement he would retire on January 31, 2008, in order to avoid any conflict with his post as chairman of the Professional Oversight Board, a body that has a corporate oversight role.

Because the National Audit Office recently took on new powers to audit companies, he said it would be incompatible to hold both positions at once.

It’s a wonder he has the time to step off his gravy train long enough to make this shit up.

And I feel like I did as an adolescent, devouring Hamlet and identifying with his sense of helplessness in the face of “the proud man’s contumely”. What a fucking disgrace.

3 thoughts on “Bourn impudent

  1. Ed

    Good for you to feel this way, and keep reading The Eye.

    This sort of nonsense is going on everywhere, and it continuously amazes me that people don’t seem to show an interest. In fact, the fact that people don’t respond this way all the time really worries me; those in power are filling their boots at our cost. Those soon to be in power are saying how they won’t, but they will. People who should be resisting this, aren’t, sometimes because it would affect their career.

    But we don’t talk about it. Weird.

    Ah well.

    I went to see Martin Bell speaking recently and recommend him (his book sounded interesting too).

    He is passionate about honesty and trust and transparency; infuriated by political lies and deceit, worried about editorial controls over MSM information, and very concerned that we the citizenry aren’t doing more about it.

    Wouldn’t it be great if journalists do more to question the fundamentals behind society and politics, put the politicians on the spot instead of regurgitating the press releases etc.; do more investigative journalism?

    As usual I am sure I am being naiive and idealistic (don’t you hate being called those words for pointing out the blindingly obvious imbalances around us?), but here is the positive side to it:

    Indymedia exists, more people like The Bristol Blogger exist, and many many others (with different angles but all dedicated to opening up what is going on) and growing. People like Alisha Usmanov can muzzle the MSM but they can’t reach people who aren’t in the pay of a newspaper.

    So the Freedom of Information act, coupled with concerned citizen journalism, applied to free to air publishing tools – gives us hope. Perhaps the concept of public accountability will catch up soon too.

    And yes, go on holiday 🙂

    Reply

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