Why Eric Pickles will allow councils to fiddle your cash – MPs’ damning verdict
Do you believe your council spends your money wisely? Are you sure none of your council tax is wasted through incompetence or fraud? Do you trust all your local politicians to be honest? Probably the answer to all three is no!
Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, has a flagship policy of scrapping the body that tries to protect you from all of this – the Audit Commission. His passionate belief is that this body of highly skilled auditors and officials is a load of bureaucratic nonsense – and has produced figures to claim that the public will save over £1bn in a decade by scrapping it.
Now an all party committee of MPs led by the indefatigable Margaret Hodge, scourge of tax avoiding Amazon and Starbucks and chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, has come to some damning conclusions on what the government is about to do. There is a full report by me on the Exaro News website (http://www.exaronews.com).
Basically Pickles wants to leave it to local councils, health trusts and the new NHS commissioning bodies to police themselves by appointing their own auditors,taking away a whistleblower hot line to the Audit Commission, and allowing big accountancy firms free rein to up their charges by picking off individual councils. It also allows even more cosy relationships to be built between the auditor and the local council and leaves whistleblowers nowhere to go.
Given the present background of mass privatisation of services this plain daft. The most extreme example is Tory controlled Barnet’s plan to hand almost everything over to the private sector – see the Broken Barnet website for detailed coverage (http://wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.co.uk). Are locally appointed auditors going to be up to doing a tough job – already Grant Thornton missed the MetPro private securityscandal in the borough. How will they keep up with all the services being privatised?
Some amazing facts are comments in the report. The government claim it will save £137m a year. The MPs say the figure is more likely to be £2.4m. They warn of a fragmented and more complex audit regime.
And on the appointment of local auditors they say: “The proposals for self-appointment of auditors risk compromising the independence of audit. The Government must intervene to ensure that existing governance structures within local bodies are not duplicated; existing contracts are managed proficiently; economies of scale in audit fees are not lost; quality of audit does not diminish; value for money can be measured comprehensively and consistently; fees, especially for smaller bodies, do not increase as a result of increased tendering costs and potential limitations to the market in audit and; processes for auditor removal, whistleblowing and public interest reporting are rigorous enough so that the regime is sufficiently robust in difficult circumstances.”
The link to the full report is: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmdraftlocaudit/696/696vw01.htm.
Pretty damning stuff. And they call on the auditor general, Amyas Morse, to offer to take calls from whistleblowers as well as local auditors who could have a vested interest in not upsetting the council.
Otherwise they warn that whistleblowers will contact the media, and in Barnet’s case,it will be the local bloggers. Too right if Pickles gets his way on this dodgy piece of legislation, your money is at stake.