Dear friends and followers,
It has been a busy start of the year, focusing on organisational development as well as our new project, coordinating a network of citizen auditors. More on our work below.
On the organisational side we have some exciting news as in January, we welcomed a new director to Research for Action: Tim Joubert.
Tim is doing a PhD at the University of Leeds on radical municipalism in the Greater London Council of the 1980s, and his interests are in social movements, urban contestation and radical history among others. He teaches urban geography at Leeds Beckett University and works part-time as a local government officer. He has also been involved in several local campaign groups and is currently mostly active with the tenants’ union Acorn Leeds. We are very glad to welcome him to Research for Action in the role of a Board member.
Citizen auditor network
Through our work scrutinising local government spending we have made contact with other groups and individuals doing the same. Whether concerned citizens or local journalists investigating one issue or advocating for a wholesale change in accountability structures, we often work in isolation in one local authority area or around a particular issue.
From March, we will start coordinating meetings to bring together citizen auditors to share skills, support each other and find commonalities in the issues we are all working on. We will advertise the meetings closer to time, but if you want to get involved or share ideas, get in touch with fanny(at)researchforaction.uk.
We hope that this network will contribute to addressing the accountability vacuum in local government. Public accountability rights are obstructed by councils and their auditors and there is no overarching oversight. This is particularly concerning given the alarming state of local government finances, a result of not only the pandemic but the unprecedented funding cuts in the last decade that have seen central government funding practically removed. With significant uncertainty over the future of the local government sector, accountability is more important than ever. We believe the public should have a role in determining whether public funds are used in the public interest.
Local audit shortcomings
In the latest evidence of audit failure in local government, the Financial Reporting Council’s Enforcement Committee has issued sanctions against Mazars for failing to “comply with the Regulatory Framework for Auditing in its audit of a local government authority’s 2019 financial statements”. It found that the audit “fell far short of the applicable standards and regulations and had the potential to undermine confidence in the standards in general of registered auditors.”
The news is on the FRC website. However, the announcement was short on details, and we sent them a Freedom of Information request to learn which authority was in question and to obtain correspondence relating to the case. Disappointingly but unsurprisingly, they refused our request under a range of different exemptions – for which the public interest test does not apply.
European Municipalist Network
This year we will also be working with the European Municipalist Network. It is a space to strengthen the emerging municipalist ecosystem in Europe and its capacity for social and political advocacy.
In recent years, there has been a renewed interest globally in the potential of local politics to achieve broad social and political transformations under the name of “municipalism”. A new wave of politicians and policies that have tackled global pressing issues: social inequalities, the impacts of the climate crisis, and the emergence of far-right nationalism. This municipalist wave also represents a promising way of building political power from the ground-up to challenge how the institutions are managed and experimenting with radical forms of democratisation and feministisation of the way institutional politics work.
Last year, the EMN mapped the municipalist ecosystem in Europe in order to identify make visible the work of groups working to create local change; facilitated training and knowledge exchange and initiated a collective for feministisation of political processes. We are very excited to be strategic partners going forward.
Dear friends and followers,