Audit Commission scrapping – something stinks

We find out today via a leaked memo that Eric Pickles is planning to scrap the Audit Commission.

This is one of the parts of government that actually works quite well, it tends to be efficient, not so over-manned that it is unwieldy, is transparent and actually performs a public service rather than acts as a service against the public.

Back in July 2008 I published an article on how you can use the Audit Commission Act to garner information and get to see the paperwork when local authorities block those FOI requests that pertain to PFI and other commercial contracts, which lo and behold suddenly gained the attention of the Tory Party.

2009-04-23 – Last year I ran an article about FOI, an essential to Liberty in the UK. This came hard on the heels of former Tory whip David McClean attempting to block FOI for MP’s correspondence with his failed FOI Amendment Bill.

Frustrated by FOI, then try the Audit Commission Act
was originally brought to my attention by Martin Rosenbaum, and is a useful tool for citizens to view all those documents that are blocked by local authorities under FOI.

Being aware of the Tories record on FOI, which we have to say is not a particularly good one, we were surprised to see that yesterday, Conservative Central Office had decided that this article on the site of the Leader of the Libertarian party was of interest, making several visits to read.

My question is:
Are the Tories thinking of using the legislation….or blocking it?I think we should know….

So it begs the question: Are vested interests at play in this latest move by Pickles, or is it a bit more nudging so that we, the taxpayers cannot see what those local councils are upto during the transition from UK control of local authorities to that of the Committee of the Regions in Brussels.

For transparency I publish here the original below. (emphasis mine)

Frustrated by FOI, then try the Audit Commission Act

Martin Rosenbaum tells us that if you want to get really detailed financial documents from your local council, there is a much more powerful tool than the Freedom of Information Act – but blink and you may miss the chance to use it.

It’s the Audit Commission Act in England, which gives you the right to see the accounts and all the accompanying financial documents for the council’s audit. In Scotland it’s the Local Authority Accounts (Scotland) Regulations 1985; in Wales the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004; and in Northern Ireland the Local Government (Accounts and Audits) Regulations (NI) 2006.

But it only applies for a short period each year. You’ve got to know
when that is, and strangely enough councils don’t seem to give it
enormous publicity.

Now the Orchard News agency has performed the valuable service on its website of collating the relevant dates for many different councils.

Here is the relevant part of the Act:

The Audit Commission Act 1998

Section 15 of the Act enables electors and taxpayers of a particular borough or police authority area to inspect and make their own copies of council and police authority accounts.

These rights of inspection extend beyond the authority supplying data spreadsheets, listing income and expenditure, on request.

The public has a right to see the detailed contracts, invoices, receipts, books and bills that relate to the accounts of the recent financial year.

It is a criminal offence for a council employee to obstruct anybody exercising their legal right to see these records for themselves.

The local councils and police authorities are obliged to advertise the times and locations that the accounts are open to public scrutiny.

Authorities are also required to provide facilities for people to copy documents and records, but may apply a reasonable charge.

The main restriction applies to details of payments to employees and former employees, such as wages and pensions.

But this restriction does not entitle councils or police authorities to censor or ‘redact’ extracts of contracts, bills or invoices which contain financial details that are incidental to the employment of any member of staff.

The Act also provides electors and taxpayers with a right to question the auditor about the accounts at the end of the inspection period, and to lodge formal objections to any item of expenditure.

Electors and taxpayers must live in the locality of the local authority concerned, but may appoint an agent to carry out an inspection on their behalf.


The Accounts and Audit Regulations

Section 14 of this Statutory
Instrument sets the period of public inspection of the accounts
to 20 working days.

Section 15 restricts councils from altering any accounts and documents,
once the public inspection period is underway.

Section 16 requires councils to publish details of where and when
the accounts may be inspected.

The Statutory Instrument makes it a criminal offence for anyone
to breach these regulations

So next time you want to find out about how much your local authority has spent with Common Purpose, or who paid who for the planning application that everyone opposed, and the contracts that go with it, then this is the Act to use.

If you are concerned or are blocked from seeing these accounts, check out the legal precedents already set by ONB and HTV West.

This is the kind of transparency that we want to see more of.

By scrapping the Audit Commission, Pickles is giving carte blanch to every local council and Police authority to hide whatever they wish, especially past and future corruption.

I really do think that the motives of Eric Pickles in this matter need to be fully investigated and disclosed.

About IanPJ

Ian Parker-Joseph, former Leader of the Libertarian Party UK, who currently heads PDPS Internet Hosting and the Personal Deed Poll Services company, has been an IT industry professional for over 20 years, providing Business Consulting, Programme and Project Management, specialising in the recovery of Projects that have failed in a process driven world. Ian’s experience is not limited to the UK, and he has successfully delivered projects in the Middle East, Africa, US, Russia, Poland, France and Germany. Working within different cultures, Ian has occupied high profile roles within multi-nationals such as Nortel and Cable & Wireless. These experiences have given Ian an excellent insight into world events, and the way that they can shape our own national future. His extensive overseas experiences have made him all too aware of how the UK interacts with its near neighbours, its place in the Commonwealth, and how our nation fits into the wider world. He is determined to rebuild many of the friendships and commercial relationships with other nations that have been sadly neglected over the years, and would like to see greater energy and food security in these countries, for the benefit of all. Ian is a vocal advocate of small government, individual freedom, low taxation and a minimum of regulation. Ian believes deeply and passionately in freedom and independence in all areas of life, and is now bringing his professional experiences to bear in the world of politics.
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3 Responses to Audit Commission scrapping – something stinks

  1. WitteringsfromWitney says:

    Yes, the Audit Commission were a useful source of information, but as an ‘auditing authority’ to ensure that those audited were working to the best advantage of those who received the supposed service – they were utterly useless as they did not ‘follow through’ what they audited.

    From personal experience with Housing Association audits, all their reports showed was whether the HA actually followed ‘procedures’ and not whether those procedures actually delivered results. For example, they ‘audited’ whether HAs had a complaints procedure or a repairs procedure, but not if those procedures actually delivered the result intended. On repairs, again as an example, they would check on ‘requests’, that they were logged and dealt with but not whether the repair was satisfactory to the recipient – that, the most important part, was not part of their remit. In other words, their audit was only concerned with procedures being followed – not whether those procedures actually worked.

    I would agree with your tweet that it should not be abolished, but it sure as hell needs ‘root and branch’ reform and it needs to widen its remit and thus provide the benefit that it was designed for.

    • WfW, I understand completely where you are coming from…however.

      We need to consider WHY departments like the Audit Commission have become box ticking, target fulfilling robots, like most other departments and police forces.

      I shall re-blog an article that I first published in Feb 07, which shows quite clearly that it is the same consultancies that Pickles now wants to farm the Audit Commission work to, are responsible for creating the problem in the first place.

      Its a classic case of Problem, Reaction, Solution (which I have written of before), but it is us, the taxpayer who have paid (in the £billions) for these consultants to destroy what were once very effecient departments and will have to pay these consultants again if Pickles gets his way.

      THAT is what I meant by vested interests.

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