In austerity, how public spending is audited has come to feel secondary, even irrelevant. If councils have no money, what’s the point of accounting for it?
Local authority audit committees are shadowy and ill-attended. Councils have handed over external audit to private firms and it’s now ‘weak and limited’, according to Sir John Kingman’s recent review of accountancy regulation.
The collapse of Northamptonshire CC may not be down to a single factor, but the failure of its auditors to shout from the rooftops years ago is a telling part of the story.
Yet audit is meant to help ensure public money is spent honestly and according to the norms of good financial management. One day (soon!) money will flow again and when it does – this may even be a precondition of taxpayers’ agreeing to pay more – public audit will need a thorough spring clean.