Tuesday 29th of June 10-11:30am
A roundtable to discuss audit and accountability failure and its impact on local government, including how to tackle it.
Research for Action’s latest report, “Democracy Denied: Audit and accountability failure in local government” shows a serious lack of accountability in local government. Our findings reveal the significant role played by private auditors in disempowering residents.
Under the Local Audit and Accountability Act, the public has the right to inspect council accounts and any related documents. Residents can also ask questions to the council’s external auditor, and if they believe spending could be unlawful or is not in the public interest, they can file an objection the auditor must consider.
However, despite wide-ranging action from residents on issues of significant public interest, auditors made no high court referrals and issued no public interest reports in any of the 83 cases we followed. These were mainly in England, where after the closure of the Audit Commission in 2015, local government auditors are private companies, including some of the Big Four.
These weaknesses in current local government audit arrangements contribute to a deficit in oversight and failure to consider the public interest. Private audit firms who are supposed to scrutinise councils act in consultancy roles for them, as well as banks and companies authorities have contracts with. This is compounded with a fragmented oversight structure where no regulatory body is willing to intervene even though residents are sounding the alarm across the country.
There is growing recognition for the need for audit reform in the private sector after audit failure has contributed to several high-profile bankruptcies in the 2000s. Despite the commonality of the issues, there has been no such focus on public sector audit.
With this roundtable of experts on audit and accountability, we aim to start a dialogue between stakeholders who are calling for improved audit in public and private sectors. We want to raise awareness of public sector audit failure as well as work towards recommendations for reform across the blurred boundaries of public and private audit, when local government is increasingly outsourced and privatised.
Emeritus Professor Prem Sikka, University of Essex
Professor Adam Leaver, University of Sheffield
Gillian Fawcett, Public Policy, Strategy and Finance Consultant
Simon Morrow, Lambeth People’s Audit
This event will take place on zoom. Link will be sent to registered attendees closer to time.