Headlines: February 10th, 1999

The move to joined up government has taken a step forward with the agreement by two watchdogs on how to work together. Local authorities, who pay out some benefits, are monitored by the Audit Commission who appoint auditors to promote improvements in their services. The Benefits agency has its own Benefits Fraud Inspectorate charged with countering fraud and improving standards.

Managing housing and council tax benefit fall clearly within the remit of the Commission and the Inspectorate. Experience shows that where there has been a joint agency responsibility in the past, e.g. with drugs, turf wars break out, each organisation vies for pre-eminence, there is duplication of effort and Chinese walls prevent the flow of information.

The Commission and the Inspectorate have published an understanding designed to stop this happening. The agreement calls for collaborative working, development of complementary roles, a commitment to avoid duplication and to exchange information and good practices. As the scale of working across traditional boundaries increases, the need for watchdog bodies to collaborate with each other will grow. Perhaps the Audit Commission – Benefit Fraud Inspectorate agreement is a prototype for the future.