Thursday, 26 July 2012

Has the Audit Commission Act 1998 become a worthless piece of legislation?

The Audit Commission Act 1998 was designed to give, amongst other things, local electors the right to inspect their council's books. This includes inspecting all "books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts" relating to the accounts. There is only a set window once a year when you can inspect these accounts and it is supposed to encourage openness and transparency.

Some local authorities seem to welcome the public inspection, others seem to place as many obstacles in the way of residents as possible. Sadly Barnet Council seems to fall into the latter category.

I, along with two other of the Barnet Bloggers, have been trying to inspect invoices and contracts to ensure that council tax payers in Barnet are not being ripped off. Don't say it can't happen. There are far too many examples at other authorities where is has happened. The ability to take up our rights under the legislation seems to have become a battle of who has more clout, council or residents.
What really upsets me is more than 18 months ago, when the delightfully expensive Pledgebank website was launched I offer to give up half a day of my time each month (for no allowance, fee or payment) to scrutinise and challenge invoices over £10,000 to help the council reduce unnecessary spending. To this day I have never been told whether my pledge was accepted or rejected. Indeed for over a year it was "under consideration".

My motivation in wanting exercise my rights under the 1998 Act is to try and reduce unnecessary spending at a time when front line services are being cut. If Barnet would work with residents rather than fighting against them it actually might benefit everyone.

As for the Audit Commission Act, sadly it appears to be going the same way as the poor old Audit Commission itself - off into the sunset. That is a retrograde step and one which Council tax payers will come to regret.


  1. A very important post, Mr R. It should be remembered, however, that there are two points in favour of some optimism. There are moves in government to debate the necessity of extending accountability to private sector partners in public sector services, and there has also been good news in relation to the FOIAct, and happily it seems that the select committee has recognised the importance of the power of scrutiny this act gives to citizens. It would seem that yet again, Barnet is out of step with current thinking, even within the policy scope of its own party.

    The Audit Act still applies, and the Audit Commission lives yet. We have the law on our side. Let's see what happens next, shall we?

  2. Indeed Mrs Angry there are moves afoot but let's not spoil the surprise. I don't suppose Barnet Council like surprises very much as they are such controlling types. Such is life.