The chairman of the axed Audit Commission has defended the organisation against accusations of profligacy.

The commission has faced criticism for spending £8,000 on an event at Newmarket racecourse and more than £50,000 on lobbyists.

But Michael O’Higgins told the BBC there had been a “legitimate reason” for each item of expenditure. He said the accusations of extravagance had angered its 2,000 staff, who knew “the value of the work” they had done.

The commission, on which the government called time two weeks ago, is responsible for monitoring the spending of health organisations and local councils.

Mr O’Higgins said “a number of incorrect statements” had been made by the government about its expenses, including the £8,000 allegedly spent on an event at Newmarket.

He said the commission had actually used the racecourse’s conference facilities on three different occasions to run training courses for local government and health authority staff.

The chairman also defended spending £40,000 on pot plants - or £20 a week for 37 offices around the country - saying it was “not a large amount of money” to make a better working environment.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Mr O’Higgins said: “It’s very easy to pick individual items out and hold them up to ridicule, but actually there is a sensible explanation for the expenditure that we incurred.”

“The requirement is to be able to explain and justify why you have spent money, rather than say that any expenditure of any sort is automatically silly.”

Communities secretary Eric Pickles said the commission had “lost its way” and become a “creature of the Whitehall state” when he announced its disbandment.

Earlier in the year he also vetoed a £240,000 salary for its new chief executive.

Bodies covered by the commission will be free to appoint their own auditors, while the National Audit Office - the Whitehall spending watchdog - will oversee the audit regime.