Thursday, 15 April 2010

Abolish the Audit Commission

The ruthlessly centralist Catholic Church employed the Dominicans, the hounds of God, to enforce obedience and orthodoxy throughout the many orders, provinces, dioceses and parishes that made up the Christian world. The stated justification for the Inquisition's infamous cruelties was "punishment does not take place primarily and per se for the correction and good of the person punished, but for the public good in order that others may become terrified and weaned away from the evils they would commit".

The Audit Commission was originally a small body of professional accountants sent on tour around Britain's local councils, schools, hospitals and fire brigades to ensure financial probity and proper stewardship of public funds. They didn't dictate what these democratically elected bodies should do - merely that the books should be straight. Their audit opinion was needed to sign-off public accounts each year, and a negative audit opinion was a powerful tool.

Today the organisation has become a massive, bloated, expensive bureaucracy at the heart of the central State, dictating policy and performance to each of the public bodies its grasp extends to. The fat cats of the Audit Commission feature prominently on the Taxpayers' Alliance's 2009 Public Sector Rich list, with a Chief Executive paid over £245,000 a year and scores of bloated minions. And this is particularly pernicious - because the money the Audit Commission's bosses pay themselves sets the standard for the rest of the overpaid, avaricious, grasping taxstealers at the top of local government and the NHS to do exactly the same.

The Audit Commission has become the equivalent of a Soviet State Economic Planning Directorate; it sets the tractor-production targets of each subsidiary body, with quotas for steel, power and labour. Apparatchiks are rewarded with the equivalent of Orders of Lenin; top billing in the Commission's league tables. The massive disparity in rewards at the top and bottom of the public sector has grown because of the Audit Commission's interference. The organisation is wholly anti-democratic and it is the Audit Commission, and not elected councillors who run your local council.

And more dangerously, it has become, like the Inquisition, the guardian of orthodoxy on the primacy of a powerful central State.

The Audit Commission's close ties to the 'Big 5' also means that hundreds of millions of public funds are siphoned off each year to private sector consultants. KPMG rely on the taxpayer for more than a third of their income. You can be sure of only one thing in the forthcoming savage public service cuts - that it will be the services you value that will be visibly cut, and not the spending on external consultants, or the budget of the Audit Commission.

And don't forget, it is that same Audit Commission that has presided over an increase in public spending adjusted for inflation of about £200bn a year since 1997 (I made it £185bn a year using the Treasury GDP deflator; Conservativehome makes it £219bn a year).

Some 'watchdog'.

If Cameron is to stand any chance whatever of even taking the first steps along the path to Localism, he must abolish the Audit Commission as one of his first acts of government. We need to get back to that small group of accountants checking the books, and trash this soviet Leviathan.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you seem to have got your wish. Now the bloated private auditors will get 100% of the audit fees, with no regulation