British people don’t really do revolutions. It’s just not the done thing to barricade roads, set things on fire and generally be out of order. What Brits are good at is politely playing by the rules, doing their homework and asking those in authority awkward questions.
Just as LW asked awkward questions about the corrupt-to-its-very-core Tower Hamlets council administration of Lutfur Rahman (whatever happened to him?) residents in Lambeth have been asking awkward questions of their Council which you can read here. (PDF)
A group of completely normal Lambeth people calling themselves ‘The Peoples Audit‘ have exercised their “legal rights to inspect, ask questions about and challenge items in their authority’s accounts.” (Source: National Audit Office Local authority accounts: A guide to your rights PDF).
In other words it’s an audit. By the people. Catchy, huh?
No answers – until the TV camera appears
And guess what? Lambeth Council don’t like it!
Lambeth Council refused to answer any of the questions raised by the People’s Audit report. Until political reporter Andrew Cryan informed Lambeth that he was doing a piece on the People’s Audit for TV.
Then, and only then, did Lambeth have the decency to respond. Odd that.
You can watch the piece here on Sunday Politics London at around 55:00 minutes in.
The footage is worth a watch if only for the breathtaking arrogance displayed by Cllr Imogen Walker, Deputy Leader Lambeth Council, in her response to the People’s Audit.
Cllr. Walker says that the People’s Audit report is “a political campaign being presented as something else” which is a really a shame apparently as the legislation which lets people go into a council and see the accounts and see how the Council is spending their money money is being spent is a really good thing.
Well, really good as long as it is doesn’t find anything interesting or embarrassing.
Anything else Deputy Leader?
“…in this instance I’m afraid it’s been hijacked by professional politicians who were until very recently hiding behind other people. I think there are questions to be asked about why they have released this at all.”
Youwhatwhere? Questions to be asked as to why Lambeth residents have released a report which is their legal right to undertake and publish? Seriously?
What were the People’s Audit supposed to do? Do the work then seal the report in a sturdy iron box and bury it in a deep hole in Brockwell Park?
And “professional politicians”? Watch the Sunday Politics London clip for the reaction of the Lambeth residents.
Maybe the days of Loony Lambeth have returned to haunt London?
Not our problem
So what on earth has this got to do with Tower Hamlets both regular readers of LW are asking?
Thing one Lambeth is south of the river and thing two it’s, er….., not Tower Hamlets. So it’s not our problem, innit?
Wrong! It is Tower Hamlets problem because Lambeth’s residents problem with their council is caused by the same complacency and arrogance which seems to be a common attitude in local authorities.
Tower Hamlet’s problem is Bristol’s problem is Lambeth’s problem is Birmingham’s problem is Kent’s problem. Because it is the same problem just in different places.
So local authorities had better get used to the public scrutiny which Lambeth is now subject to. And come up with some better responses than “a political campaign being presented as something else.”
“The Town Hall cat went wee wee on the Council accounts so they got all smeared” would be more credible.
Fact is that all over the country there are individuals and groups of people like People’s Audit in Lambeth who are doing the work that needs to be done. Because no-one else is doing it.
What is this ‘it’? Holding local authorities and other public bodies to account that’s what.
Our friends Shepway Vox in Kent have undertaken an audit of Kent County Council’s accounts for the financial year 2016/17.
The Shepwayvox team consisted of two independent qualified CIPFA accountants, a retired PWC Auditor and a few lawyers and they “discovered evidence of financial mismanagement, a systemic lack of financial governance and issues surrounding value for money, costing millions of pounds of public money.”
Good work team Shepwayvox!
The issues found in Lambeth and in Kent can undoubtedly found in local authorities across the country. The antics LW found the previous administration in Tower Hamlets had been getting up to were not the result of a people’s audit but investigations into specific allegations of electoral fraud which unearthed this little gem which, along with other evidence, resulted in the ex-Mayor becoming just that. Ex.
But the whether audit or investigation the principle is the same. Accountability.
The work of citizen auditors and community journalists shows time and time again that local authorities are bleeding money. Your money. Our money.
How much money? No-one knows. Certainly not the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). At a guess it amounts to billions of pounds nationally. Maybe tens of billions of pounds.
More people’s audits more often
The horror of Grenfell Tower has shown the worst of what can happen when residents are ignored. Audits by residents of their local authority – which exist solely to serve residents – have to be continued and increased, both in frequency and forensic precision.
These audits, in conjunction with investigative work by community journalists, are the only way that ordinary people can redress the balance between the power of public bodies and the rights of those they purport to serve.
So if Lambeth or any other council is irritated by the type of work the People’s Audit have carried out LW has a simple message for you.
Welcome to the future.
Related Internet Links
- Lambeth People’s Audit
- National Audit Office Local authority accounts: A guide to your rights. (PDF)