People’s Audit Two – “LAMBETH COULD SAVE MONEY IF IT HAD MEANINGFUL ENGAGEMENT WITH BOROUGH’S CITIZENS”
Lambeth council, which describes itself as a “Co-operative council”, could save money and avoid cutting much-needed services if it were more open to public scrutiny and genuine, meaningful engagement with citizens living in the borough, says the report.
Using the powers of the 2014 Local Audit and Accountability Act, residents of the London borough of Lambeth say they have found extensive evidence of financial mismanagement and failings in the council’s financial governance in 2015/16.
“The results of our investigations suggest the lack of governance within Lambeth council is systemic. “With much of its work contracted to private companies, Lambeth council seems ill-equipped to procure and manage these contracts in a consistently robust way.
“Competitive tendering, which should contribute to the integrity of spending decisions, appears to have been poorly supervised and, in some instances, entirely lacking. In its dealings with property developers,
“Lambeth council similarly appears ill-equipped to ensure the public can trust it is getting value for money.
“This is particularly worrying given the huge scale of the “regeneration” programme the borough is currently undertaking.
“Whatever lies behind this mismanagement – and it is beyond the scope of Lambeth Peoples’ Audit to ascertain its causes – it is clear that the sums involved are significant.
“Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being wasted.
“In the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, our findings also raise concerns about safety. “If, as it appears from our investigations, Lambeth is not in control of its contracts with building and maintenance contractors, how can residents be confident that their homes are safe?
“If concrete and brickwork repairs have not been thoroughly checked against invoices, as our report suggests, can residents of council estates in Lambeth be confident that any work on their buildings has been inspected by council officers to ensure it has been properly completed and meets all safety regulations?.”
“EXTERNAL AUDITORS APPEARED NOT TO TAKE OUR EVIDENCE OF FAILINGS SERIOUSLY”
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, says the report.
“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.
“Furthermore, Lambeth council’s external auditors who are paid £243,000 to scrutinise Lambeth’s accounts on behalf of the public, failed to pick up evidence of serious failings in Lambeth’s accounts.
“When Lambeth Peoples’ Audit alerted the external auditor to evidence of failings, the external auditors appeared not to take them seriously.
“If the intention of the 2014 Act was to open local government finance up to robust public scrutiny, the experience in Lambeth is that the arrangements are insufficient.”