Humpty Dumpty and the Audit Commission

I’ve never been a great fan of Eric Pickles. Even before I put a face to the name, his activities as a filibustering back-bencher always seemed to me to be intended to subvert democracy.

And who, having seen him on TV, doesn’t think “I’ve seen that face somewhere before! Oh yes, I remember: Humpty Dumpty!”

But let us not mock his endocrine imbalance.

He is out to get the Audit Commission. There may be an element of personal vendetta here, but I’m not going to peer too closely there; nor am I going to repeat Michael O’Higgins defence – but it does seem as though Humpty Dumpty should have looked a little closer at what the money was actually spent on before launching his attack. He is beginning to look a little silly: the accusation that the Commission paid for days at Newmarket  races has left Humpty Dumpty with egg on his face, even if it’s not yet the great fall some of us might secretly be hoping for.

Instead, I am going to suggest that the abolition of the Audit Commission, together with the pledge made in the Coalition Document to open up local government expenditure, presents a huge opportunity for extreme transparency.

We don’t need to pay private sector auditors to check local authority books: this seems to me to be a way of diverting public money to Tory chums. If local authority accounts (budgets and actuals, purchase orders, contracts, bids and offers,  invoices, statements – everything except personally-identifiable information) are all published online, we the people can do the auditing.

There will be a rump Audit Commission. Abolishing quangos seldom, if ever, turns their staff on to the streets; and a good job for whichever quango replaces it will be to publish and to maintain the specifications and the API for the publication of local authority accounts.

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