Exit the Audit Commission

Most progress is being made by the government with demolishing the architecture of top down control and centralisation that the last government imposed on Councils. This week the Audit Commission was added to the RDAs, the regional housing targets and plans, the Comprehensive Area Assessments and many of the requirements and monitors placed on local government.

The Audit Commission was revealed to spend liberally on itself. It was also urging Councils to go over to fortnightly bin collections, when most of us want to keep the weekly collection – or more frequent – that is common in most of the country.

I am delighted to see the back of this apparatus. It now poses the challenge to Councils to shape better policies for themselves and to be properly answerable to their local electors. The UK has become so overgoverned, with far too many layers of government. The complexity made it difficult to know who was responsible for what, and the presence of so much power in the hands of unelected reigons and quangos could thwart effective accountability if you did find out these intermediate layers were to blame.

It will be cheaper, and easier to understand. Some Councils will thrive with the new freedoms and others will find them difficult to grasp. It will be more worthwhile and more interesting to be a Councillor, as there will be more opportunity to do well- or not so well – for your local community. The system of black marks and gold stars, of constant outside interference, ticking of boxes and comprehensive advice, guidance, audit and regulation stifled innovation and often killed commonsense. Can they be born again in Town Hall and County Hall?

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33 Comments

  1. Popeye
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Keep up the good work sir. Believe me you are a breath of sanity in this bureaucratic existence.

  2. JimF
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    This is absolutely the right thing to do, but there needs to be some democratic apparatus for monitoring Councils' expenditure, or that £50 million will soon be lost to the electors via unaudited Council jamborees. You will find a great willingness amongst ratepayers to take part in the monitoring on a voluntary basis but the basic apparatus for compulsion and vetoing of spending has to be there and I'm sure Pickles knows this. Let the true paymasters, the Council tax payers, loose on these Councils from their armchairs and watch the bills go down…..

    • blokeinfrance
      Posted August 15, 2010 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

      Council tax raise less than 30% of council spending, the rest comes from general taxation. Reduce central funding and watch voter participation rise.

  3. JohnnyNorfolk
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    We will see, I just also want to pay less incime and council tax. If you think why the audit commision was set up, it was to try and stop mostly Labour councils overspending. Perhaps we should go back to only those that pay council tax have a vote.

  4. FaustiesBlog
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Most likely, the Labour councils will find this most difficult because centralisation is in their DNA. So be it. The next local elections should weed out the unfit, unimaginative and witless.

    Perhaps campaigns should focus on "initiative", heaping shame on those who can't cut it.

  5. WitteringsfromWitney
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    "It will be more worthwhile and more interesting to be a Councillor, as there will be more opportunity to do well- or not so well – for your local community."

    Only if the 'Cabinet System' of local government is abolished – otherwise what changes?

  6. David Hannah
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    The truth is that local government will never be accountable to local people for as long as it depends on central government for its funds. He who pays the piper calls the tune.

  7. Derek Buxton
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    I wish that it would make Councils better but on current form it is highly unlikely. To make Councillors work better the "cabinet system" has to be scrapped and the CEOs fired. This stupid system originated with Prescott and it shows.

  8. grahams
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps you could also persuade Mr Pickles to withdraw the daft guidance that local authority (and charity) reserves should be deposited only on the basis of highest interest rates and credit ratings. This enabled officials to disclaim responsibility for losing vast sums in the crash, in spite of the lesson of BCCI a generation earlier. It is now obvious, if it was not before, that by the time rating agencies downgrade it is too late to get out, so treasurers must actually use judgment. In any case, public money deposited with fringe institutions is unlikely to be used for mainstream business lending.

  9. Clive Bone
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    There is still the need for a comprehensive and long-term strategy to raise awareness of modern Lean, Value Management, Systems Thinking, etc methods to improve public sector productivity.

    Mrs Thatcher in the 1980s had BS 5750/ISO 9000 heavily promoted to raise the quality of UK goods and services. Something like this is badly needed in the public sector where the level of unawareness of modern methods is appalling.

    The best of industry uses these approaches because world markets force them to. Not using them should not be an option for the public sector. This may require some sort of agency to assess take up and efficacy of use. This does not exist at the moment and it would be a million miles away from current inspection practices that Mr Redwood complains about.

    • Alan Jutson
      Posted August 20, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

      Clive

      ISO 9000 is just a paperwork tracking system, it has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of anything, other than the paperwork tracking system.

      Example: I could have the worst product in the World, and I could get ISO 9000 acreditation for it, if I can prove its the worst by paperwork..

  10. Mark
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    This is more welcome news. Professional financial auditors are more likely to discover cases where financial probity standards are breached than quangocrats whose motivation is ensuring adherence to politically correct policies, not value for taxpayers.

    Parts of the jigsaw are still missing (although Eric Pickles has made remarkable progress in such a short time). As Douglas Carswell has pointed out there remains a lack of local accountability on tax and spend decisions. The power may be taken away from the remote quangocrat, but it hasn't been restored to the voter and taxpayer.

  11. Steve
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    If only a fraction of the bad stuff written about the Audit Commission is true, then it is a relief that it has been closed down. I just hope that the senior staff, all of whom are supposed to be Nouveau Socialist Blairites or Brownites, do not get generous pay-offs. I'd suggest that an official enquiry into this body's politicised activities and the damage that it has done to local council relations with their communities should be ordered, an enquiry that might hopefully lead to (furtehr action -ed).

    But — its original purpose of auditing the expenditure of local authorities is certainly still vital, so who exactly is going to take on this responsibility now?

    reply: Normal auditors

  12. Demetrius
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Was it Attlee who said a PM had to be a good butcher? This is an excellent start. I recall the old Audit Commission, a body that did a very useful and needed job in a world of small councils, often without qualified accountants employed. What it became under Labour was a seriously overblown dictatorial body whose powers and authority were anti-democratic and did extensive damage.

  13. forthurst
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    One of the problems highlighted in the case of the Audit Commission is mission drift: public bodies not having shareholders breathing down their necks are congenitally predisposed to wander off topic, manifesting as micro-managing, social engineering, self-indulgence. Sadly this is likely to afflict left-wing councils no less than left-wing quangos.

    The previous Conservative government addressed this issue with spending caps and Section 42, an ill-conceived response to one local education authority's prescribing a text book specifically for its social engineering content whilst failing to question why LEAs rather than teachers were selecting text books for their pupils in any case.

    There needs to be a way of defining the boundaries of legitimate publicly funded activity for different bodies so that they can be penalised for wasting money and interfering in matters about which they have no legitimate concerns.

  14. adam
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    we have already proved Big Pharma is behind the war on junk food/obesity/unhealthy lifestyles PR campaign

    so call me a conspiracy theorist but when i see news stories like this, i think extra sales for big pharma.

    "(Reuters Health) – Fast food outlets should hand out free cholesterol-lowering statin drugs to their customers to "neutralize" the heart risks of eating fatty foods like burgers and fries, British scientists suggested on Thursday."
    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE67C2GE20100

  15. vicky7oaks
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, by scrapping the Commission, you are also ensuring that more people are reliant upon benefits. My soon-to-be-ex husband is losing his job at the AC and we will both be dependent upon the state for our livelihood and additionally, the well-being of our small child. Who knows whether either of us will find new jobs in the current market? (I gave mine up to care for my son for the first 3 years of his life). We will shortly have to fund 2 households without an income between us. I am devastated and very frightened about our future and the savings you initially create by wielding the axe will soon be eaten up by a new selection of 'benefit scroungers'. The people in charge of the AC have let down their lowlier paid employees. We are the ones who are going to suffer. Perhaps you can suggest what on earth my family can do? We are already having to sell our home as we won't be able to meet mortgage payments now. That is the human cost.

    • JimF
      Posted August 15, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

      Nobody wants you to become benefit scroungers. All those on here will feel for your personal situation, but in the long run it has to be better for your husband to seek work in an organisation which is doing the job it is supposed to do rather than one that isn't. Sadly whilst your immediate thoughts are probably that you are a victim of the new Government, the truth is that by creating hundreds of thousands of jobs which were paid for on the never-never, Labour stored up problems for thousands of people such as yourself, while making sure those in charge were well looked after.

      • vicky7oaks
        Posted August 17, 2010 at 10:03 am | Permalink

        Plainly, you are not very well informed, Jim F, and wouldn't know the truth if you tripped over it. The AC IS doing the job it is supposed to do and was established by THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY! Eric Pickles' agenda is one of personal revenge and schmoozing the big 4 accountancy firms as everyone knows. He couldn't even find legitimate excuses to scrap the AC, he made them up. Which was widely acknowledged in the press yesterday. My husband has worked for the AC for 10 years and most recently researched how local councils could reduce carbon emissions and deal with climate change. Something that will not go away as we have non-negotiable targets to meet. Allegedly, the coalition is pro green issues.

    • vicky7oaks
      Posted August 17, 2010 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Not much evidence of that. And before you suggest where my political allegiances lie, I am not left-wing in the slightest and am v aware the Labour govt is responsible for the economic legacy. But, sacking 2000 workers in this brutal manner will put a huge strain on the benefits system as well as allowing councils to go unchecked . I am currently trying to calculate the costs for my own household and it will be no small amount. It won't save any money. I predict that the loss of the AC it will actually have a huge price tag in more ways than one.

  16. Ruth1969
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    Where do you ignorant people get off? This will NOT make anything better or save money. The real outcome is over 2000 dedcated staff losing their livelyhoods, being unable to pay their own way, and having to spend more tax payers money by being reliant on benefits. Councils will NOT be more accountable as they will save money by choosing cheap and incompetent firms to carry out cheap and incompetent audits. I suspect that those of you who are enjoying thus misery are more than likely either retired and taking a nice fat pension from one of the big firms, are CEO to Councils who under perform, or are jumped up 20 something newly qualified little auditors, who can see a big fat commission cheque coming! Well good luck to. I meanwhile, have to explain to my children that we will probably have to move house, that we will have to watch what we spend on the weekly food shop and that they will have to have free school meals. MORE taxpayers money. So before you jump up and down with glee, think about the REAL cost of this, and I just hope you can sleep at night. I know I won't for while! Ignorance is a revolting trait.

    • JC1965
      Posted August 17, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      Whilst I feel sorry for your husband and all staff at the Audit Commission where did you get your information that they were doing a good job? Instead of helping public sector organisations improve and removing the things that get in the way of good performance they have been introducing huge waste, obstacles and costs. They established a wrong-headed inspection regime based upon their good ideas. They then enforced this specification upon the whole sector and made their judgements based upon how well the organisation was doing against it. Is this really assessing public sector performance? And anyway it became a checklist that public sector bodies ticked. Once they had done as prescribed they could show everybody else that they had ticked the boxes even if performance was terrible. So whilst you are cross yours is a very centralised top-down approach. I hope that your husband gets a job that is actually providing a service directly to customers and he can put everything he has learnt to tell other people to do into practice.

  17. Matt Steele
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    Over 2000 people will now be looking for work in what is already a dilipidated job market, with hundreds of thousands on benefits already, if not millions, this is only going to add to that, surrendering the potential of any saving. Perhaps you should think of the normal people who are not paid so well that still have to feed their children.

  18. Matt Steele
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    The AC has done some very good work over the years, recently the report published on Doncaster Council, with recommendations. Interestingly Government pursued those suggestions and have now taken over the running of the council. The National Fraud Initiative, set up and ran by the AC, has uncovered, £215 million worth of fraud. With regards the private firms they are only interested in their profits, whereas the AC are a not-for-profit organisation, hence the lower fees. So with the private firms charging more, where are the savings to be made?

  19. Matt Steele
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    I am an AC member of staff, with two daughters under the age of 5 earning less than £30k per annum. I can sleep safe in the knowledge that I done my job well and served the public to the best of my ability!
    Perhaps people should think these things over before they comment, there are many people in dissary at the moment over these announcements, and I am sure there will be more on the way. How about some compassion??

  20. Mark
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    I have sympathy with those Audit Commission junior staff who now find themselves being made redundant. I would suggest that if you have the right audit mindset (not box ticking for gold stars, but rooting out poor financial management) you will be in a strong position to offer your services to private audit firms based on your specialised knowledge of the tricks you've seen councils try to get away with. They will welcome your expertise, and will need to do some hiring to meet what will be an extra workload for them. You in turn may feel more satisfied that you are not part of a machine promoting box ticking, and the prospect of expanding into a more varied career. If you show initiative by contacting potential employers and advertising your range of talents you may manage to get a more senior and better paid position. I wish you well.

  21. Ruth1969
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Mark, those of us staff who have posted on here are not "junior staff" and quite frankly it was a little ignorant of you presume so. Also, the Audit Commission is made up of much more than just auditors and I for worked to support the running of the business and am qualified to do so. Yes I am sure some auditors will be able to walk into a firm and get a new job, but I disagree that they will be more satisfied. We could all clearly see the difference each and everyone one of us made and at no point have I ever heard of a AC auditor or inspector "ticking" boxes. Would Doncaster and the Benefit frauds been highlighted if that is all they did? Please. Do not patronise us, we all hope we will be able to find other work, and yes it maybe a better paid position, but I can guarantee nowhere will have the same dedication and team spirit as the AC did. It's a very sad loss indeed.

    • JC1965
      Posted August 17, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      And that is the problem – you never have 'heard of a AC auditor or inspector "ticking" boxes' – because not once has your organisations acknowledged or responded to any criticisms of its methods. No evolution and no change. Why? As soon as you admit faults all of those people who lost their jobs on the back of your terrible poor method inspection reports might have some legal recourse.

    • Mark
      Posted August 18, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      I didn't know the AC paid senior staff less than £30k.

      I've seen several major reorganisations in different organisations over the years – including complete shutdowns. Sometimes, they're caused by Philistines taking over (and almost always there are people who think that, regardless of the truth). Sometimes some judicious pruning of activities and counter-productive staff together with some re-direction is sufficient to set things straight. Sometimes the whole activity has to go. Even in those cases, there are many people who are hard working and fully deserving of employment (often where a plant has to close because economics make it loss-making – perhaps through new legislation – all the workers and management have been doing their utmost to find ways to keep it open). I'm sure that the AC does some things extremely well, and that there are many staff who are conscientious and effective. That doesn't mean that the organisation as a whole can continue to justify its existence: the rules have changed. Maybe you can spot how to set up AC Ltd. the specialists who will do the new job best in the new environment.

      Whenever there is a restructuring there is pain and personal sadness. I've seen it from all sides, including being on the receiving end, as well as having to take the difficult decisions on necessary action. It is never easy. It can be like a marriage, and takes time to get over. My sympathy is genuine.

  22. StevenL
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 1:47 am | Permalink

    The de-Brownification of Britain gathers pace, interesting!

  23. Crush Tories
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    The Tories will pay for this and the rest of the cuts. Red rivers.

  24. Ruth1969
    Posted August 18, 2010 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Well said Vicky7oaks. I sympathise with you I really do.

  25. christina sarginson
    Posted August 24, 2010 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    It is all very well getting rid of these quangos but who will police what public bodies are doing, would it not have been better to focus on their weeknesses and still kept the policing of elements like the Equality Act 2010 high on the agenda. I do hope the public bodies still keep to what they should do and not think it doesnt matter.

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