Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) such as the UK National Audit Office and the French Cour des Comptes play important roles within the institutional mechanisms of the democratic state. They are given high independence in order to secure public accountability for, first, the probity and legality of public spending and, second, economy, efficiency and effectiveness. During the last twenty years several SAIs’ mandates have been adjusted to reflect the latter, more managerialist, concerns.

This article asks two questions: first, what evidence do these SAIs offer as to the quality and effectiveness of their activities in carrying out their mandates and, second, to what extent does their self–reporting appear to have been influenced by the precepts of the ‘New Public Management’ (NPM)? To address these questions an analysis is carried out of the annual reports and other relevant documents of the Finnish, Swedish, French and UK SAIs, and of the European Court of Auditors. The analysis shows considerable differences of approach. These may well be related to the differing constitutional positions and administrative cultures of the SAIs concerned. In conclusion we identify different concerns which are associated with either a fervent embracing of NPM criteria by SAIs or, alternatively, with an apparent rejection of those approaches.