The head of the UK’s public spending watchdog has both given and received hospitality from companies with major government contracts, including IT services firm EDS.

Sir John Bourn, who heads the National Audit Office, was taken to a polo event at the expense of IT contractor EDS on 29 July this year, documents released by the watchdog reveal.

They also show that the audit chief spent £210 on lunch for two at the prestigious Wilton’s restaurant with someone from an unspecified firm holding a government contract on 18 June, and £117 on another two-person lunch with a contractor – this time at the Great Eastern Hotel – on 23 May.

The NAO papers cover hospitality given and received by Sir John - formally known as the Comptroller and Auditor General – and his senior managers between 1 April and 30 September this year.

An NAO spokesperson refused to name the contractors taken for lunch by Sir John, saying that the audit chief “needs to engage with these people on a confidential basis” so that “full and frank” discussions could be held.

The discussions were part of the spending watchdog’s work to provide “a balanced audit”, speaking to all those involved in major public sector projects, including contractors, the spokesperson said.

“In general he would speak to people with an interest in what he is auditing... either they are government people or private sector people with a large interest.”

Asked whether it was necessary for such audit-related discussions to take place during expensive meals or events, the spokesperson said: “Those decisions are made by the C&AG on how he does it.”

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