People’s Audit 13 – BACKGROUND TO THE PEOPLE’S AUDIT “Our input could have saved the council significant amounts of money. “Sadly our offer of help was rejected by the council.”
The Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 (the Act) gives people the right to look in detail at how councils spend our money in the financial year.
For 30 working days in the year anybody who lives within the borough is entitled to look at how the council spends their money.
Section 26 of the Act gives any elector the right to: (a) inspect the accounting records for the financial year to which the audit relates and all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers, receipts and other documents relating to those records, and
(b) make copies of all or any part of those records or documents. Councils are obliged to advertise when the local electors’ inspection period is on their website.
The Peoples’ Audit of the London Borough of Lambeth’s accounts for 2015-16 is the most extensive use so far of powers provided to citizens to scrutinise their councils’ expenditure under the 2014 Local Audit and Accountability Act.
A group of Lambeth residents, including finance professionals and experienced campaigners, had a month in the summer of 2016 to request accounts, contracts, invoices and correspondence relating to expenditure.
They supplemented this with Freedom of Information requests and members’ enquiries by a councillor.
Lambeth Peoples’ Audit is a group of Lambeth residents who came together because of a shared concern as to how Lambeth council makes its decisions and how it spends our money.
The group includes both finance professionals and experienced campaigners.
Lambeth council have continually stated that the decisions they make are being forced upon them by central government cuts.
Whilst recognising the effect of central government cuts we knew that not to be the whole story.
From our own experiences of dealing with the council we could see the lack of due diligence or planning that goes into some of the decisions that the council have made So we decided to launch our own “Peoples’ Audit” of Lambeth’s 2015/2016 accounts to find out more.
We used the provisions of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014, which provides a 30 working day period wherein local people can inspect the accounts and any contracts, invoices and the like related to monies spent or received in the financial year.
Our aim was to not only try to get to the bottom of what was happening with Lambeth’s finances but also to try to encourage other citizens around the country actively to scrutinise their councils.
After all, local authorities in England alone are responsible for spending £94 billion a year but how that money is spent receives very little detailed scrutiny.
Lambeth council describes itself as a “Co-operative council” that “empowers and supports citizens and stakeholders to make informed choices and co-design future services”.
In this spirit we offered to help the council review how their contracts were operated and to help them save money.
Our group contains some highly experienced finance professionals who could see immediately that there were some significant problems.
Our input could have saved the council significant amounts of money. Sadly our offer of help was rejected by the council.
The report is a summary of the findings from our audit. We are fully aware of the pressures that local government faces.
The Peoples’ Audit can’t change the political climate but we do know that now more than ever it is important that public money is spent wisely and in a transparent manner. We hope that the findings of our audit will produce some positive changes.
The findings of the Lambeth Peoples’ Audit also raise questions about the adequacy of audit arrangements following the abolition on the Audit Commission in March 2015.
When he announced his decision to disband this government body in 2010, it was the vision of then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles that the Audit Commission would be replaced by a combination of the private sector and an “army of armchair auditors” – members of the public scrutinising their local authorities’ spending decisions.
But the experience of the Lambeth Peoples’ Audit is that Lambeth Council were unable or unwilling to supply information needed for “armchair auditors” to perform a thorough job. (Source: Lambeth Peoples’ Audit report).