Coffee House

Pickles axes the Audit Commission

13 August 2010

9:07 PM

13 August 2010

9:07 PM

Eric Pickles’ decision to scrap the Audit Commission is further evidence that Pickles is the minister prepared to move quickest on the cuts agenda. It is a bold decision and one that is going to come under heavy attack. The Audit Commission’s supporters will claim that it is self defeating to scrap the watchdog that checks that public services are delivering value for money.

Set against that, though, has to be the culture of excessive pay and waste at its hearts. Until Pickles intervened, it wanted to pay its new chairman £240,000. Notably John Denham in his statement tonight opposing the abolition of the Audit Commission, felt obliged to say, ‘I had warned the Audit Commission against excessive wage increases and their fate seemed to be sealed when they ignored this’.


The Audit Commission, as the Telegraph points out, also didn’t help its cause when under the last government it paid £60,000 to lobbyists who ‘advised it to "combat the activities of Eric Pickles", then the Tory party chairman.’

Veterans of the cuts debate will, of course, recall that it was Steve Bundred, the former head of the Audit Commission, who was the first big figure to point out just how large the cuts were going to have to be to set the nation back on a fiscally sustainable path. When he said that, he probably wasn’t expecting that the Audit Commission would be one of the things that would go as part of that process


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  • David Lindsay

    Dame Shirley’s revenge.

  • Holly ……

    ‘Gung-Ho cuts’?
    Where was all the ‘worrying’ over the gung-ho spending?
    Can’t cut enough for my liking.
    Let’s hope the beeb is next.

  • Simon Stephenson

    denis cooper : 2.35pm

    There’s a third problem, too. This is that it’s highly unlikely that the Audit Commission has become riddled with injelitance independently of the rest of the establishment. It’s going to be exceedingly difficult just to close down everywhere. And the replacement organisations have to be led by someone – how are we to locate competence when anyone possessing this has been jettisoned at an early stage in their career progression?

  • denis cooper

    It seems that the Audit Commission had become heavily infected with “injelitance”, the deadly combination of incompetence and jealousy first identified by Professor Parkinson:

    ” “The injelitant individual is easily recognizable from the persistence with which he struggles to eject all those abler than himself. He dare not say, ‘Mr. Asterisk is too able,’ so he says, ‘Asterisk? Clever perhaps–but is he sound?’ … The [organization] gradually fills up with people more stupid than the chairman….”

    Organizations can be cured of injelititis spontaneously, when an individual conditioned to hide his intelligence penetrates to the top post and “suddenly throws off the mask and appears like the demon king among a crowd of pantomime fairies.” Or sometimes a massive amputation and simultaneous transfusion of new blood will work – but not always. Ultimately, however, the only course is to eliminate the organization completely. “Infected personnel should be dispatched with a warm testimonial to such rival institutions as are regarded with particular hostility …. As for the [office] buildings, the best plan is to insure them heavily and then set them alight.” “

    So probably Pickles is right to assume that the Audit Commission is beyond redemption and therefore just shut it down completely in one fell swoop, and then he should disinfect the site by burning the building to the ground.

    Two problems:

    First, the part of their work which was necessary and useful will still have to be done, and it may actually cost more than before.

    Second, there are now millions of public sector workers who will be wondering whether their own part of the state apparatus could suffer a similar fate of being shut down suddenly out of the blue, and while that may encourage them to sharpen up their acts it may also make all of them much more cautious about spending while they still have jobs, and that negative impact on consumer confidence could significantly slow economic recovery.

  • jimbo

    Am I alone in worrying about just how gung-ho they are being about these sort of cuts.

  • AndyLeeds

    The Audit Commission was profligate and well deserved to be abolished. I hope the government will go much further and carry on an abolish a lot more quangos.

  • alexsandr

    a small team in Department for Communities and Local Government can do the commissions work I reckon….

  • Michael Davies

    Am I alone in worrying about just how gung-ho they are being about these sort of cuts. Where is the reasoned argument with assessment of what the Audit Commission does, what can stop, what needs to be done and now who will do it… etc? Where is the new intellectual framework for accountability in local government? If it is just ‘local democracy’, where is the articulation of the risks and benefits of relying on that, and what do voters need to make that work?

    There’s a macho contest going on – but at the moment its all on paper and impressing the comentariat… they haven’t actually experienced the loss of anything they’ve cut yet. And when they have, they’ve shown a loss of bottle…

  • Bickers


    If the Audit Commission have done such a great job can we have examples of the money they have saved us versus the cost of doing so.

    Clearly the Audit Commission had lost the plot – £240,000 for a chairman is not just ludricous but just goes to show that the Audit Commission, like many public sector bodies, knows it doesn’t have to compete for work and knows the stupid tax payer will write the cheque. Well, the party’s over and we need to see the Coalition re-organise the public sector so that it’s a vastly smaller part of our economy; Zanu NuLabor & Comrade Brown have done inestimable damage to our country and culture by stealthy building a markist state.

  • Simon Stephenson

    Just in case anyone is thinking that:-

    1. The Government is abolishing the Audit Commission


    2. The Audit Commission’s budget is £200m p.a.

    can be put together to conclude that:-

    3. The government is saving £200m p.a.

    Well, it can’t.

    The necessity for an audit function will still remain, and in so far as the work of the Audit Commission was not duplication of work done elsewhere there will need to be resources allocated to ensure this work is done. So either a replacement in-house body is put in place, or the work will have to be contracted out to private auditing firms. And as Mark Capllewright (8.44am) notes, private firms are very expensive – to the extent that for funstions where there is a permanent full-time need, it is financially questionable to pay the scale rates of a major firm rather then employ directly.

    I wonder if Mr Pickles would have made this decision if it had been required practice for a clear corroborated statement of the full costs and savings, over time, to be made available for public inspection – together with, of course, a detailed current forecast of what these were expected to be, by way of comparison.

  • Man With a Very Hot Bladder

    What happens to the sacked auditors?

    They get jobs with auditing firms.

    When the auditing firms get contracts to do council auditing, who will they use to do the work?

    The former Audit Commission auditors.

    Same people, same Common Purpose members.

    Gubbinmint is just carrying on the privatisation/corporatisation of Britain.

    At least it is possible to do FOI requests with the Audit Commission – you won’t be able to do FOI requests with the audit firms.

    Piggles must think we are all stupid.

  • Widmerpool

    Very well done that man Pickles!
    Don’t be diverted by the self serving squirming of the Quango people past and present.
    Here is a quote Eric is supposed to have made recently on the anniversary of another famous revolutionary’s birthday:
    Happy Birthday, Che.

    We may not look like Che Guevara, but you and I are revolutionaries.

    You and I are going to change things.

    The revolution starts here.

    Viva la revolution. Viva the revolutionaries!’

  • David Booth

    What to replace the Audit Commission with?
    Can I suggest the Fraud Squad.

  • Mark Capllewright

    All this nonsense about the Chief Execs pay and appointment of lobbying firms is partly a smoke screen and partly just plain wrong. Moreover, transferring the functions of the Audit Commission into the private sector will not save any money. As for quality, think of all the big corporate failures and scandals in recent years (PollyPeck, BCCI, WorldCom, Lehman Brothers, Northern Rock etc), all of which were presided over and not uncovered by private sector auditors charging much fatter fees than the Audit Commission. Whatever you think about the Audit Commission’s corporate activities, the vast majority of the staff affected by this decision are doing an honest job for a modest wage. All this rejoicing in their demise is quite sickening. I don’t think you have to look too far to see why the Audit Commission was at the top of Eric Pickles hit-list of quangos. The announcement is political and vindictive and could have a devastating effect on over 2000 people and their families.

  • emil

    When Dame Suzi , the Quango Queen, no longer trousers copious amounts of taxpayers money then real progress will have been made.

  • Roger Davies

    Just love Mr. Pickles he is exactly the type we need by the thousand to combat the mentality of tax and waste. We need to see 500,000 jobs go in the Public Sector within the next 12 months.

  • RMH

    So who reins in their spending and makes sure you council value for money?

    I understand the logic of a slimmed down AC but one removed.

    Councillors who create slush funds and run them as pfiefdoms will be wetting themselves at this free rein.

  • MaxSceptic

    Well done Eric!

    Next week, please repeat the exercise on:

    – The BBC
    – The Arts Council
    – All Regional ‘Development’ Agencies

    And the week after…..

  • kein

    it’s an important moment just like gandolph pickles is saying you shall not pass,the knives are out and you have to hope they have budgeted for the body bags.

  • steveal

    “self defeating to scrap the watchdog that checks that public services are delivering value for money…”

    They haven’t been doing a very good job, have they?

  • Neil Reddin

    I hope Eric Pickles let’s us know where the Audit Commission will be buried, in case we feel like a boogie.

  • DW

    Good good good. Way to go.
    Now what’s next?

  • Simon Stephenson

    Presumably, there’ll have to be a successor body. Could it be time for the audit leaders to be publicly elected officers?

  • Enoch was Right

    Well done Eric.
    Next – take over responsibility for the BBC and abolish the TV Licence.

  • Nick

    It’s a small start.

    5,000 billion plus still to go