A probe into the way ‘hired guns’ at Whitehall have been paid should be extended into local councils and the National Health Service, a Norfolk MP has said.

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The Commons Public Accounts committee today published its report into what are known as off-payroll arrangements, where 2,400 people working for central government were being paid by external organisations, reducing the amount of tax they had to pay.

And Richard Bacon, South Norfolk MP, a member of that committee, said the probe now needs to be widened beyond central government.

He said: “The Treasury must cast its net wider than Whitehall and look into the use of off-payroll agreements at the BBC, local government bodies and NHS Trusts across England.”

In a week when the Department for Transport has come under fire for “unacceptable mistakes” in the award of the West Coast main line rail franchise, Mr Bacon said a lack of expertise at Whitehall meant ‘hired guns’ were being used to plug gaps.

He said: “When it comes to filling senior, high-pressure Whitehall jobs, the mindset has been to get people into posts without due regard to the strings that might come attached, such as requests for favourable tax treatment. This flawed thinking has allowed 2,400 off-payroll deals to be done across Whitehall.

“These deals highlight Whitehall’s long-standing over-reliance on ‘hired guns’ – interim staff brought in to make up for the lack of specialist skills in the civil service. “

He said the Cabinet Office needs to address those gaps.

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