Borough residents have the right to inspect the accounts of the council for the next few weeks until Friday 13th July.
Yes that’s right, it is still not a well known fact that between 9am and 5pm any person can go to their town hall and inspect the accounts of the council for the year ended 31 March 2018 and related documents such as books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts.
You can make copies of documents you find of interest.
Make use of your rights as a citizen
These rights – and they are rights, individual local authorities cannot choose to opt out of this requirement – are as a result of the Accounts and Audit (England) Regulations 2011.
The annual accounts documents can be seen in person at the Town Hall, Mulberry Place, 5 Clove Crescent, London E14 2BG or online here.
What to do – and what not to do
So you want to check what the council has been up to but have no idea where to start.
LW’s advice is to absolutely not indulge in what is called a ‘fishing expedition’, i.e. attempting to find some juicy morsel of information but trawling through pages and pages of documentation.
It’s a waste of your time and a waste of the council officers time.
Focus on one issue
From our own experience digging through council documentation over the last few years the best way to work is to choose a particular subject and focus on that. This might be an issue relating to a particular service, a specific location or an incident.
Contact the council before turning up
The council’s advice (which we fully endorse) is for people to first have a look at the accounts online, then if they can’t find what they want to make a list of all the additional info and then contact the council team who deals with this stuff via Final.email@example.com (and also cc firstname.lastname@example.org for good measure) detailing the docs you want.
They will then confirm a time for those docs to be viewed at the Town Hall.
It might take some time to get the documents you require so if you just rock up to Mulberry Place demanding to see stuff you will probably be looking at a long wait. Serves you right really.
Remember that council officers are there to help you. Our experience is that council officers are only too willing to advise and point you in the right direction, they are the experts in this stuff.
But you need to be specific to start off with. Exact locations, exact dates, as much detail as possible. The more you help the officers in the first place the more they will be able to help you.
Actually not quite, but that’s the nature of the beast.
What is very annoying is when people’s audit teams like People’s Audit at Lambeth are called ‘amateurs’ when they are nothing of the sort.
This is a typical headline from the Public Finance site: ‘Amateur auditors claim widespread financial mismanagement at Lambeth’. Amateurs? Bleedin cheek!
Working for free does not mean amateur work
The implication of headlines such as this are that because people are unpaid then they are not capable of producing a professional standard of work.
This is complete and utter nonsense. The Lambeth People’s Audit team are residents who do a very professional job. You can read more about the people behind the People’s Audit here.
One is a chartered quantity surveyor with 30 years’ experience. Another is a retired manager with 35 years experience of management in the public sector. Another is currently conducting PhD research into Housing Database systems used by Local Authorities. Another has carried out primary and secondary research for national and international charities for over ten years. Another is a graduate from Harvard Business School and a qualified accountant.
Wonder how many Lambeth councillors are Harvard Business School graduates?
The benefit of people’s audits are clear to see when the council in question goes into attack mode and start throwing around their own dodgy articles like this from the Lambeth Labour group: “New information raises serious questions about the “People’s Audit”.
Naughty people alert!
The Wapping Mole knows that the best indication of guilt is when those being questioned make attempts to denigrate the questioners. When Moley was on the case of Lutfur Rahman he used to get all sorts of allegations made against him.
Fortunately Moley has thick fur and so little harm was done. And Moley did get his own back of course.
Once you get past the initial nastiness of these slurs you realise that if a councillor such as Lambeth’s Paul McGlone claims that ““These latest revelations cast serious doubt about the motives and credibility of the ”People’s Audit”” then your investigation is absolutely on the right track!
Thanks for the confirmation Cllr. McGlone! (He seems to have difficulty with basic arithmetic as this news story from Brixton Buzz illustrates, being unsure if the new Lambeth town hall is going to cost either £50m or £164m. Oops!)
Lambeth council’s reaction to the work of the People’s Audit has been appalling and not worthy of a group of elected representatives – which reinforces the absolute need for citizens to exercise their rights to audit their local authority.
HCLG arse kicking team required
Hint: If anyone from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (HCLG formerly the DCLG) wants to do the right thing they should send their teams into Lambeth and see for themselves how this council has tried to deny citizens their rights.
Love Wapping, the Wapping Mole and the entire LW staff stand with People’s Audit Lambeth and their right to audit their council. An attack on them is an attack on us. [Enough of the revolutionary rhetoric – Ed.]
Nothing like Lambeth’s behaviour will be encountered in Tower Hamlets of course as Mayor Biggs has repeatedly stated that he wants his administration to be run in an ‘open and transparent’ manner.
A People’s Audit for Tower Hamlets please
Tower Hamlets certainly needs it’s own people’s audit team that is independent of LW or any other organisation.
There are lots of qualified professional accountants, auditors, investigators and the like in the borough, so get yourself organised and get to work.
Until such time as there is a People’s Audit Tower Hamlets team Moley will do what he can, but we do urge people to get involved and get digging.
You may well find that your work unearths more questions that need answers and so might have to make Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for this.
And you might also have to do a lot of work investigating limited companies and charities.
And walking the streets checking stuff that you won’t find on Google Maps. That’s what we do.
No-one said that being a citizen auditor is easy – but it is very worthwhile and you can make a difference to your community.
So get your pen pocket protector ready and get to work!
Moley is more than happy give some advice if you need it so get in touch. He might even be doing some digging at the Town Hall himself this year.