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November 5, 2002

Minister's partner gets watchdog role

From: BBC, UK
Nov. 5, 2002

The partner of a Labour minister has been appointed as chairman of a watchdog which keeps public spending in check.

In a move angering the Conservatives, James Strachan has been made chairman of the Audit Commission.

Mr Strachan, partner of Arts Minister Baroness Blackstone, is currently chief executive of the National Institute for the Deaf.

The move has long been expected and the senior Tory spokesman David Davis attacked the decision in advance.

'Jobs for the boys?'

Mr Davis said it would be "singularly inappropriate for the partner of a government minister to be in charge of an organisation whose be-all and end-all is impartiality".

The appointment was made by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Health Secretary Alan Milburn and Welsh Secretary Peter Hain.

It was made under the Nolan rules, which are meant to ensure fairness and transparency in public appointments.

Downing Street has insisted that code of conduct was properly followed in the appointment.

Asked whether this was a case of "jobs for the boys ", the prime minister's official spokesman said: "It would be wrong to discriminate against someone because of who their partner is."

The decision had been made on merit, added the spokesman.

Defending independence

The Audit Commission has a particular role in making sure local councils are working efficiently, as well as monitoring spending on health.

It also tests how users see the criminal justice system.

Welcoming his appointment, Mr Strachan was keen to stress the continued independence of the Audit Commission.

"The commission has built a reputation for being a staunchly independent regulator which combines well researched work at the national level and a strong local network of auditors and inspectors," he said.

"I am determined to develop and protect this reputation."

Mr Strachan has also worked as a senior investment banker in the City in the past.