Research for Action has made extensive use of the right the public has under the Local Audit and Accountability Act to inspect council accounts. We have also supported residents to file objections to spending they believe is not in the public interest, mainly LOBO loans, under the same accountability legislation that on paper gives the public the right to scrutinise council spending and participate in accountability processes.

Despite some successes in highlighting issues in council finances, we have serious concerns shared by residents we have supported that the LAA Act is not fit for purpose. We have not witnessed a single auditor issue a public interest report or make a high court referral despite dozens of objections and the fact that auditors raised concerns about the loans with each other and regulators. Local government in England has been audited by private companies since the closure of the Audit Commission in 2015.

Accountability is particularly important due to the current funding crisis in local government. There is also a growing public debate on the role of private auditors in the public sector and the lack of scrutiny over local government finance since the closure of the Audit Commission. This is why we want to draw attention to this often overlooked dimension in the severe democratic deficit in UK local government. 

We also want to use what we have learned to contribute to the wider conversation on local democracy, accountability and participation. There is a danger of the pandemic leading to a permanent political restructuring where accountability is further eroded in the name of savings and efficiency. It is crucial to counter that narrative with bold ideas on how local government could be shaped, and we want to work together with councillors, policy researchers and grassroots activists to rethink audit and accountability.

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