Dear newsletter readers,
We are very excited to say that we have just launched a report that showcases the work of various citizen auditors across England!
The publication, called ‘Citizen Auditors: investigating local government’s accountability gap’ shows ways in which local groups and individuals are scrutinising their local authorities, challenging poor governance and decisions they believe are not in the public interest.
It draws on the experiences of a network we have been coordinating this year. Citizen auditors are working on a wide range of issues relating to council spending, but also on challenging poor governance. We support each other in working on very technical issues, which though vital for democracy can be complex to communicate to the wider public.
This brief report demonstrates some of the ways in which the local democratic deficit is being tackled across the UK. It also highlights some of the tools citizen auditors are using, such as judicial review, press work and the right to inspect council accounts.
We hope that it will inspire and encourage more people to scrutinise their councils and hold them to account, and are very grateful to those who have shared their experiences with us to feature in this report. You can read it here.
If you would like to attend a meeting or receive updates on future training, get in touch with us on fanny(at)researchforaction.uk.
IN OTHER NEWS: WHAT WE’RE READING
Recently, some great research and scrutiny into local government has come out.
Thurrock Council: Commissioners take over as serious concerns raised over loans (Bureau of Investigative Journalism)
An investigation by Gareth Davies and his colleagues at the Bureau revealed last month that Thurrock Council has borrowed millions from over 150 other local authorities to invest in solar farms owned by one man. This highly secretive and under-scrutinised project exposed other local authorities to risk. It has also led to the central government taking the rare move of appointing one local authority to oversee the financial affairs of another: Essex County Council is now overseeing the financial functions of Thurrock Council after an £138 million hole was discovered in their accounts. Thurrock is three times more indebted than the next most indebted local authority.
Find out more in this short video that explains the Thurrock case and why the Bureau have now teamed up with the Good Law Project for a legal challenge.
A Public Interest Report: Manchester Life and Abu Dhabi
In a report entitled ‘Manchester Offshored’, university researchers from Sheffield explore a joint venture between Manchester City Council and organisations and projects owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group. The report by Adam Leaver, Richard Goulding and Jonathan Silver takes a ‘public interest’ approach to the particularly opaque development organisation Manchester Life and finds a worrying lack of oversight and accountability in how the development has occurred.
The authors examine the consequences of the deal for value for money and the safeguarding of public assets, transparency and local democratic accountability, and wider ethical and political implications of the partnership with one of the world’s most authoritarian regimes. There are important recommendations for scrutiny of such models, particularly of urban development in cash-strapped local authorities.
You can download the full report here.
Lambeth People’s Audit’s Housing for Lambeth report
Lambeth People’s Audit recently released a report into the council’s property development company Homes for Lambeth (HFL). Council-owned companies can be notoriously hard to investigate as they and authorities often claim they are not covered by the same accountability legislation as public bodies.
In Lambeth in 2021-2022 alone, the council handed over more than £32M to HFL. People’s Audit were not able to find out this money had been spent. However they discovered worrying gaps in HFL’s governance and procurement: HFL has failed to meet over 90 per cent of the targets set in its annual business plans, yet the council has signed off successive business plans. No financial audit of HFL has been carried out since at least 2019. On top of all this, the company only built 16 homes during its first five years in existence.
Read or download the report on the People’s Audit website.