The Bourn Profligacy

‘Quis custodes ipsos custodiet?’ Roman satirist Juvenal, the author of this famous epigram, liked to poke fun at the excesses of the city’s feckless rich. He would have had a field day with the National Audit Office’s Sir John Bourn.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Bourn is the NAO’s auditor-general, which means he is the man in charge of the public purse – responsible for monitoring the government’s expenditure on services.

Unfortunately, his expense account shows no sign of a commitment to frugality. The NAO admitted yesterday that Bourn has spent a whopping £365,000 of taxpayers’ money on first-class travel overseas in the last three years, plus a hefty £27,000 dining out in London’s finest (and priciest) restaurants. He has also been enjoying the hospitality of large defence contractors and accounting firms.

Who’d have thought being comptroller would be so much fun?

It is not the first time that Bourn’s free-spending habits have come under scrutiny. In June, he was cleared by a parliamentary probe after racking up a massive bill for foreign travel. His 40-odd trips (all first-class, of course) included four days in Mauritius for a ‘peer review’ of its audit office, and an extended stay in the Bahamas following the ‘Caribbean Organisation of State Audit Offices Congress’. Both with his wife.

Bourn probably feels a little hard done by. After all, expense bills like this would be par for the course if he worked in the private sector (in fact, a few bankers will be running up restaurant bills of £27,000 in a single lunchtime once bonus season kicks in). But when your sole job is to monitor public expenditure, racking up a tab that would put the least scrupulous MPs to shame doesn’t seem all that bright.

The NAO has already promised to rein in his spending – Bourn will no longer be able to fly first-class without parliamentary approval. Doubtless he will also have to curb his fondness for fine dining – we reckon the auditor-general will have to make do with the Boots Meal Deal for a few months after this one.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

When should you step down as CEO?

Bob Iger's departure poses an unpopular question for bosses.

The death and resurrection of the premium customer

Top-end service is no longer at the discretion of the management.

What HS2 can teach you about project failure

And how you can prevent projects going astray.

35 Women Under 35 2020: Nominations open

Management Today's 35 Women Under 35 showcases the country's rising stars in business. Here's how...

Practical steps for breaking silos

Briefing: Adam Williams, former CEO of influencer marketing agency Takumi, shares what he has learned...

The Power 50: Proof that you can be a part-time CEO

Just a few years ago, executives were reluctant to admit they worked part-time for fear...