Mark Wallace, senior account manager at Portland Communications and author of the Crash! Bang! Wallace blog hails the abolition of the Audit Commission as Eric Pickles' finest hour.
The abolition of the Audit Commission has attracted a lot of comment. This is natural for a body that has been so high profile, and it is certainly one of the Coalition’s most notable quango abolitions so far.
Most of the discussion around the Commission’s demise has been looking at the news from the wrong end of the telescope, however. This isn’t an end to auditing and financial scrutiny, nor is it the start of a new policy. The end of the Audit Commission is simply the logical result of decisions already taken and policies already implement.
Eric Pickles has already established himself as the most radical member of the Cabinet, overtaking Michael Gove, who went into the election as the front runner with his excellent Free Schools policy.
The Communities Secretary’s sweeping reforms have removed the Audit Commission’s raison d’etre.
If you abolish swathes of central targets and suffocating red tape, such as the flawed Comprehensive Area Assessments (which I wrote about here back in May ), then you simply do not need centralised apparatchiks to enforce them. The boxes the Commission used to tick have been abolished, and the box tickers are thus redundant.
Similarly, the move to publish all local government (and DCLG) spending over £500 has shifted much of the work scrutinising spending into the hands of the general taxpaying public. With 60 million volunteers poring over the books, the Commission have become even less relevant
The simple fact is that much of the Audit Commission’s job has ceased to exist – the tide has gone out from under their pedalo, they are all dressed up in a flouncy dress but the prom has been cancelled.
Of course, councils will rightly still have to have the books audited, just like any company or organisation. But there’s no more reason why they should have to use a central government body to do that than there is reason for the establishment of a nationalised supermarket to supply all their sandwiches.
As well as being emblematic of the localist revolution that is taking place, the death of the Audit Commission will make a sizeable saving. The much-touted estimate so far is somewhere around £50 million, but it will almost certainly be more. As well as looking at the amounts to be saved in the Commission itself, we must
consider the large amounts councils will save by not filling out their endless forms, entertaining their regular visits and jumping through the ever more complex hoops that they demanded.
Auditing has never had a reputation for being the source of much excitement, but on this occasion it should give all of us reason to get very excited indeed.