As the Audit Commission prepares to leave the stage, its current controller reviews the public sector watchdog’s achievements over more than three decades – and the challenges to come before it takes a final bow…
The Audit Commission has published new analysis of data on English councils’ central management costs in its briefing, Councils’ Centrally Managed Spending: Using Data From the Value for Money Profiles. Overall spending on corporate and democratic management reduced by 13 per cent from 2003/04 to 2012/13, while spending on central management support to services increased by 10 per cent. However, gaps and inconsistencies in councils’ recorded spending in these areas will, the Commission says, hinder councils’ attempts to identify savings and undermines accountability to taxpayers. As a result, the Commission is calling for greater local scrutiny and more consistent reporting by councils of their central management spending.
The Audit Commission has issued a statement following the news that the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 received Royal Assent today. The Act makes it possible for the Audit Commission to close, in line with Government expectations, on 31 March 2015, 30 years after it was established. In the statement the Commission’s Chairman explains the main aims of the organisation in its final 14 months. Jeremy Newman also confirms plans are already in place for many of the residual responsibilities that will transfer to new organisations and highlights those for which a new owner has not yet been agreed.
Councils administer housing benefit on behalf of central government. They also administered council tax benefit until it was replaced in April 2013 by local council tax support schemes. Councils’ local arrangements, such as how quickly, accurately and efficiently they process claims, affect the amount they spend administering benefits and the amount of subsidy they receive from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). By improving their performance, councils can reduce their costs, which are in excess of £800 million per year.
The Audit Commission is working alongside its sponsor Departments and other key stakeholders to help design a new regime for local public audit, that will be robust and sustainable, following the closure of the Audit Commission as outlined in the Local Audit and Accountability Bill.