Dear friends,

After a good Christmas break, the three of us and our various collaborators have been getting on with projects, plus co-op development and planning for the future.  

Still waiting for Audit Reform

This Spring we will be publishing our research into local audit and public interest, and how this arena could be improved, both in terms of upcoming legislation and more widely in cultures and mechanisms of accountability in local government. 

The bigger picture isn’t good. There’s deepening frustration from all sectors – local government, auditors, regulators and MPs/Peers – over the continued absence of an Audit Reform Bill and lack of clear framework for a new audit body, ARGA. In January, the National Audit Office (NAO), which is an independent Parliamentary body sitting at the heart of the UK Government, stated that audit reform delays are damaging to local audit and called on the Government to set out ‘a detailed timetable by which it expects to restore timely audited accounts’. There is no indication yet of when the Audit Reform Bill will be presented in Parliament; and there’s not much time left in this Parliament for it to happen. The formalisation of the FRC as ‘shadow system leader’ in the meantime is expected to be formalised imminently. 

In December NAO published a report on the timeliness of local audit, outlining how audit delivery, already poor for a number of years, had worsened during the pandemic. In 2021/22, only 12% of audits were completed by deadline at the end of November. This is slightly better than 9% achieved in the previous year, but 2021/22 had 2 extra months to complete. One reason for delays is a lack of qualified staff in the audit sector – this happened in the case of Grant Thornton’s audit of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole after an auditor resigned. 

The Big Four Auditors are often in the news. Five years after the collapse of construction and services company Carillion, the Financial Reporting Council still hasn’t published its report into auditor KPMG’s role in its demise. Meanwhile in January, Audit firm Mazars was fined by FRC over local audit failings. They found “failures in the reviewed audit, which it considered fell far short of the applicable standards and regulations and had the potential to undermine confidence in the standards in general of registered auditors”. However, the local authority involved has not been named. Mazars is the third largest auditor of large local government authorities and health bodies in England.

Our collaboration on democratising governance

Over the winter we held co-learning events in Sheffield and Glasgow to look into local campaign groups and what their experiences tell us about local democracy. The project, which is a collaboration with SANE in Glasgow and organisers from It’s Our City! Sheffield, has given us worrying insights into governance failures in both cities. However,  it has also been inspiring to see the energy and determination of campaigners and community groups that build power in their communities and tackle the democratic deficit. The conversations have enriched not just us but also the participants, who have found common ground, made new connections and learned from each others’ strategies. Now we are working with an artist who is producing a beautiful poster series of the themes emerging from the conversations. We are also working out next steps for the project, as there is so much more to be said and learned about what SANE calls these “landscapes of resistance”.

European Municipalist Network 

The European Municipalist Network is also seeing lots of activity this year. As the organisation responsible for storytelling in the Network, we are working with a video editor on interviews that were filmed in the network’s meeting in Berlin in October. They are informative introductions to different local groups in Berlin and elsewhere in Europe, as well as insightful glimpses into different municipalist strategies, and we look forward to sharing them with you!

Also as part of the network, Amsterdam-based Commons Network is coordinating a series of skillshares on topics relevant for groups building local power. Make sure you follow us on Twitter and on Mastodon; we will publicise them when dates are set! We will then collect the learnings from these sessions into toolkits to be spread even further, so that’s summer reading sorted if you are thinking that far already.

As ever, please do get in touch if you want to find out more about any of the things we have going on !

With all best wishes
Gloria, Fanny and Megan