PICKLES – with a surname like that, no need for first names – has decided to chop the Audit Commission. A £50 million saving. Private companies will instead be hired to scrutinise the books of local authorities. A couple of well known firms who tend to colonise this area of work in regional government will be rubbing their hands at that.
Before its demise, the Audit Commission would get a quote in local papers up and down the country each year when it handed out star ratings to Town Halls after its brief inspections. Their scores set up a bit of rivalry in local government circles. Those who did well generated envy in those still, in the eyes of AC inspectors at least, in need of improvement. In theory, high scores also helped councils attract the best staff and have less combative relations with central government. So while anybody outside of the Town Hall thought it was all a bit small potatoes, the chart-makers inside felt it was rather more important.
And four stars were flauntable. Two years ago Camden Council cracked four stars in every department – an achievement unmatched in the history of the Commission’s inspections.
“Stop rubbing your eyes, when it comes to the local authority league tables Camden, it was revealed on Tuesday, is ahead of all the rest. Top of the heap. A-number one. In the eyes of inspectors from the government-appointed Audit Commission, the Town Hall is not just the best council in the country but effectively its best council ever.
It may seem like a bold boast but never before have inspectors been so generous with their marks, doling out the maximum four stars in every discipline following a two-week inspection just before Christmas. It’s like a figure skater seeing the judges unveil a rack of straight sixes.”
Fancy that? If you read on of course… not everybody agreed that Camden was so special. And these top inspection scores seemed to count for little when Camden’s electorate voted for a change of power at the Town Hall in this year’s local elections.
Still, if the AC is gone – and Camden Council scored the highest marks in the history of the informal local authority championship it unwittingly set up, does that mean the game ends with Camden undefeated?