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Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Eric Pickles and Government Corruption

One of the more dire manifestations of the Big Society idea is the abolition of the Audit Commission. 

Eric Pickles argued that "armchair auditors" could do the job previously done by professional accountants.  Anyone who actually thought about this would know that local government finance is simply far too complicated for that to be an effective mainstay of properly monitoring public spending.

Instead we have a situation where the professional auditors are the same firms that advise on tax avoidance and offer "consultancy" of often dubious value.  Of course, the activities are supposed to be separate, but given recent scandals in financial services, how many of us would trust to that?  Simultaneously, the barriers to corruption in local government have been systematically weakened.  This is not just a matter of formal rules, but also a weakening press.

In Brent, we appear to have gone even further in this direction than we had to.  Brent Scrutiny has effectively been abolished in changes rushed through after the elections.  The Standards system, which genuinely held former councillor Bertha Joseph to account, has now become meaningless.  That episode reminds me of the importance of political will.  Bertha Joseph was effectively shielded from punishment by Boris Johnson because he wanted her political support on the Fire Authority.  If gross misconduct, for example racist bullying, is deliberately ignored by elected politicians, it is no wonder that public faith in democracy diminishes. 

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