Paul Wheeler 13 September 2010

Soap Box

Soap Box image

Nothing ever happens in August? Well, try telling that to the shell-shocked employees of the Audit Commission.

No-one loves a quango, but those celebrating the demise of the commission might do well to pause to see how some of its functions are carried out in the future. It is one of the great strengths of the public sector in England that we have avoided ‘Enron style’ scandals.

For local government, the Audit Commission has been there at some of the toughest times. Think about how the district auditor challenged the antics of rate capping councils in the 1980s, or the homes-for-votes scandal in the 1990s. Both episodes had the potential to damage the overall reputation of local government, and it took the commission to root out these problems.

In a more general way, the emphasis of corporate governance has ensured long-term improvement in councils such as Hackney, Hull and Walsall. Somehow, I doubt if short-term audit contracts with the big four accountancy firms will have the same consistency of approach and outcomes. I also pity the local government ombudsman. Apart from taking over the responsibilities for councillor conduct from the defunct Standards Board, it now has, in some ill-defined way, to respond to public concern on the performance of local councils. I am not sure if I would want to be manning its helpline in 12 months time. We should be wary of any extension of power for the National Audit Office. Giving more responsibility to an organisation directly accountable to MPs is hardly a success for localism.

But, for local government, there is a silver lining in the proposed abolition. In particular, there is a real opportunity for Local Government Improvement – IDeA, as was – to promote a rigorous form of peer review to provide an improvement framework for local councils – and other parts of the public sector. Peer reviews were a considerable success, and one which has not received the recognition it has merited in recent years. Local government will face enormous pressures in the near future. In particular, the army of ‘armchair auditors’ – the general public – will need robust, independent and consistent performance measures if we want an informed debate on service improvement and value for money.
It’s now or never for modern democracy image

It’s now or never for modern democracy

The electoral landscape is now ‘more crowded than ever’, while council resources have been ground down, says Laura Lock – and she warns that professionals do not have limitless capacity.
For your free daily news bulletin
Highways jobs

Senior Project Manager

Leicestershire County Council
Up to £50,823 per annum
The role of this post is to oversee the project management, development and implementation of the County Council’s Major Transport Projects.. Leicestershire
Recuriter: Leicestershire County Council

Programme and Change Delivery Manager (Spatial Planning and Urban Design)

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
£43,833 - £53,115 Depending on skills and experience
Are you a change delivery manager with expertise in England’s local government spatial planning and urban design sector? Wandsworth, London (Greater)
Recuriter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Early Years Practitioner

The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council
£26,544 - £30,618 per annum pro rata
This is a diverse area and we have high aspirations for all our children, starting with... Kensington and Chelsea, London (Greater)
Recuriter: The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council

Programme Manager - Association of Directors of Children’s Services

City of York Council
£50,000 to £60,000 pa
This role will help to shape an annual SLI work plan and variously oversee, facilitate, commission or directly deliver and... York, North Yorkshire
Recuriter: City of York Council

School Wellbeing Worker

City of York Council
£27,614 to £30,602 per annum
The role will involve providing schools with consultation and advice, training, direct work in... York, North Yorkshire
Recuriter: City of York Council

Public Property

Latest issue - Public Property News

This issue of Public Property examines how how flexible workspaces can lead the way in regeneration for local authorities, Why local authority intervention is key to successful urban regeneration schemes and if the Government’s challenge of embracing beauty is an opportunity for communities.

The March issue also takes a closer look at Blackburn with Darwen Council's first digital health hub to help people gain control over health and care services.

Register for your free digital issue