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.
21st November 2023 This letter was originally published in The Byline Times. We represent a range of organisations and individuals working on audit and accountability, local government and local democracy. We are deeply concerned about the current situation in local government audit. In October, a cross-party group of MPs and Peers wrote to the Prime […]
Local government in the UK is in a state of deep crisis. Shrinking of the state, centralisation of power and the hollowing out of the local state have decimated the sector. Local audit should be one of the central accountability mechanisms in a well-functioning democracy, but it is not working. Current audit arrangements in England […]
Online Event – Local Audit: Why Public Interest Needs to Count Weds 16th August, 7-8.30 pm Please sign up for the event here How can we get better local government accountability from the ground up? Launch event and discussion for Research for Action’s new report Local audit in England is in a state of deep crisis. […]
Across the UK, concerned individuals and local groups are holding local government to account. Research for Action has been supporting this loose network to form closer ties, meet regularly to learn from one another, provide support and compare experiences and techniques. This publication shows ways in which those local groups and individuals are scrutinising their […]
There is a deep democratic deficit in local government. The UK is one of the most centralised countries in the world. Turnout in local elections is low. In many councils there is no effective opposition, further weakening accountability. This is no accident, rather a result of concentrated efforts by the central government to centralise power […]
Decades of funding cuts, outsourcing and commercialisation have driven local government to the brink of collapse. Scrutiny is more important than ever, yet our research shows that local authorities and their auditors actively prevent residents from exercising their rights to hold councils to account over spending decisions. Research for Action’s new report presents evidence of […]
26 May 2-4pm, register here. How can we as communities and social movements reimagine and reclaim our cities, towns and villages? For many of us, the local elections in May 2021 again provided little chance to change things. Local government has been decimated by successive legislative changes and austerity. Westminster politics provides little hope, with […]
Research for Action is investigating the effectiveness of the Local Audit and Accountability Act in relation to the rights it grants the public to: inspect council financial accounts ask a question to the auditor on the accounts object to items of the accounts We would like to base our evidence on the experience of as […]