Below is a guide for individuals and campaigners on how to use the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 to obtain information from local government and object to spending decisions not undertaken in the public interest.
The right to inspect the accounts and any underlying documents apply to anyone who is either:
- a local resident on the electoral register and/ or
- a citizen journalist/ blogger or campaigner who has published any material online.
Please note however that the rights to ask questions to the auditor and to object apply only to local residents, on the electoral register for the council in question.
Account Inspections and Objections for Individuals
Residents can inspect their local council’s accounts for a set period between June and August (dates vary by council, but in England all accounts must be open between 3-14 July in 2017) and request underlying invoices, contracts and documents and ask questions from the external auditor.
If you find something in the accounts that constitutes irrational or potentially unlawful expenditure, residents can request a public interest report into the matter and/or apply to the high court to have the spending item declared unlawful.
In the guide, examples of objections are provided for:
- Schools built using the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) that are a complete rip-off for taxpayers, often without sprinklers and fire unsafe
- Fossil fuel investments by council pension funds that place both scheme members and local taxpayers at undue financial risk
- LOBO loans taken out by the council that lock them into high interest payments for up to 70 years
Account Inspections for NGOs & Organisations
With the Local Audit (Public Access to Documents) Act 2017 amendment which broadened account inspection rights to citizen journalists and bloggers, anyone who has published material on the web now has the rights to inspect local authority accounts and request supporting documents.
These rights can be used in a similar manner to the Freedom of Information Act – but are stronger and broader. It is a criminal offence for councils to withhold info, unlike with FOI.
For organisations with a national reach that campaign at both the local and national level, the Local Audit and Accountability Act provides a useful vehicle for local campaign groups to hold power to account in their communities, while raising the profile of local issues and bringing them to the attention of media and decision makers at the regional and national level.
Account Inspections for Grassroots Organisations
With the growing importance of social issues such as the lack of safe and affordable housing coupled with the need for a localised response to the climate crisis in the absence of action by governments, there is a renewed focus on local authorities as a potential area for social change.
In 2016, Debt Resistance UK helped residents in 24 local authorities lodge objections to rip off bank loans, of which 18 objections were accepted by the auditor and are currently being investigated.