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November 4, 2002

Tory anger over choice of audit watchdog chairman

Financial Times (subscription), UK
Nov. 4, 2002

By Nicholas Timmins, Public Policy Editor

James Strachan, the partner of Baroness Blackstone, the arts minister, is to be confirmed today as chairman of the Audit Commission - despite Tory protests that the appointment would be "singularly inappropriate".

Mr Strachan, currently chief executive of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, was chosen by the independent selection process operating under the Nolan rules.

But David Davis, the shadow deputy prime minister, 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".

Tories on the Local Government Association had also said they would oppose the appointment. But it transpired yesterday that in the end the LGA has raised no objection to his appointment.

It was the LGA's protests over the appointment of Lord Warner, a Labour peer and former adviser to Jack Straw when he was home secretary, that led Stephen Byers to veto Lord Warner's appointment earlier this year.

In this case, however, the LGA has drawn a distinction between Lord Warner's political activity and Mr Strachan's personal relationship.

Tony Blair, the prime minister, had made clear that he would face down any charges of cronyism, given that Mr Strachan had emerged from an independent selection process.

The government was also embarrassed that in the case of Lord Warner it had allowed the audited - the Local Government Association - to veto the auditor, given that an important part of the Audit Commission's remit is to audit and conduct value for money studies in local government.

© Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2002.