2013 abolition timetable for Audit Commission

by our parliamentary correspondent

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24 Feb 2011

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Targeting the Audit Commission

THE DOOMED Audit Commission has flatly denied government claims it is
deliberately trying to postpone its abolition following reports of a leaked
internal memo suggesting it may still be in operation until 2014.

A statement from commission chairman Michael O'Higgins said it was "working
with government to ensure the transition to a new audit regime that is fit
for purpose and is completed in the shortest timescale possible".

He added: "We have no desire to continue going, following our abolition
announcement, any longer than is necessary."

A commission spokesman said the key substance of the memo reported by the BBC - that it was likely to keep some powers 'until at least December 2013' - had already been disclosed in evidence to the Commons communities and local government committee. The body is conducting an urgent inquiry into the abrupt decision by communities secretary Eric Pickles to abolish the body.

The BBC reported that the commission was likely to be open in 2014 despite Mr Pickles' desire to scrap it by the end of 2012 to save a claimed £50m a year.

In the memo, commission chief executive Eugene Sullivan was reported to have said: "We are now working to a longer timetable. We think the earliest the commission will be abolished is December 2013 and possibly not until the end of 2014." He added: "Business as usual."

A statement from the communities and local government department said: "The government has stated that reforms to the local audit regime are likely to take effect from 2012/13.

"A first consultation on the details of a new audit framework is planned for late March. Following this consultation, the government will then publish a draft bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. Following such consultation and scrutiny it is the government’s intention to introduce the necessary legislation at the earliest opportunity."

Parliamentary observers believe this indicates that abolition could be pushed back to 2013, possibly early 2014 beause of the way government timetables work.with consultation starting March legislation might not be ready until the end of the Parliamentary year. A second reading of the bill might not take place much before December 2012, pushing everything into the following year. Hold ups in the Commons or Lords could delay it even further, raising the risk that the legislation will not be enacted until 2014.

Labour shadow local government secretary Caroline Flint said: "As a result
of the shabby way Eric Pickles announced the abolition of the Audit Commission by press release, he has created yet another shambles.

"The current situation is the worst of all worlds. Staff at the Audit Commission don't know whether or not they're still in a job, the savings we were promised won't materialise for at least another four years, and the public still don't know how they will get the information to hold their local council to account.

"Eric Pickles needs to get his act together and sort out the mess he has created."

A communities department spokeswoman said the issue was being dealt with at a political level.

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