MPs call for audit office to scrutinise Teesworks

Ian Reeve, BBC Look North business correspondent

The cross-party Business and Trade Committee has come to the conclusion that the National Audit Office "must" concern itself with affairs at Teesworks, the South Tees Development Corporation and the Tees Valley Combined Authority. But can it?

The committee asked for NAO help in compiling its just-published report on freeports and investment zones.

That request to look at Teesside freeport transactions was rebuffed by the NAO's comptroller and auditor general Gareth Davies, who said he did not "have the statutory power to conduct examinations of individual local authorities and associated bodies".

He is limited by the legislation laid down in the National Audit Act of 1983 and to become involved he would need a request from a government minister. This would then need an agreement between that minister and the relevant bodies to be examined.

The government thinks that the independent review published in January into allegations of corruption at the former Redcar steelworks site was sufficient, with Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen accepting all 28 recommendations (mainly over transparency and oversight) in the report.

The question will be asked what purpose another investigation would serve.

Those in favour say it will be a more rigorous process.

An NAO report would inform the Public Accounts Committee which can hold individuals to account in evidence sessions.

Audited bodies are then required to respond to recommendations made by the committee.