Headlines: August 17th, 2010

The chairman of the audit commission has hit back at claims that it forced local councils to adopt fortnightly bin collections or that it spent money on ‘days at the races’ The reports followed the announcement by Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, that the Commission is to be abolished.

In a letter to Mr. Pickles the Commission Chairman, Michael O’Higgins, said it was critically important that during a period of uncertainty and transition steps were taken to ensure local accountability, and the accurate audit of public spending, was carried out effectively. The Commission, he said, was keen to work with ministers to develop the proposed new systems. Mr. O’Higgins said he had been disappointed and dismayed at misleading press reports in response to Mr. Pickles’ announcement of abolition. Specifically he said the Commission was not reluctant to disclose its spending and had always favoured openness, accountability and disclosure. It had been among the first organisations to publish the expenses of its Chairman and Chief Executive online.

He goes on to say: “The Commission’s spending details do not show ‘days at the races’. The Commission made payments to Newmarket racecourse for meeting and conference facilities. These were briefings for local government and NHS bodies on technical issues that might arise from the current programme of audits.

The dates were not race days.” The letter also denies that a PR firm had been hired to ‘lobby’ against shadow ministers and that councils were forced to adopt fortnightly refuse collections and it adds: “It is the Commission’s duty to push for maximum value for money in local services. But it holds strictly to the view that it is for local elected members to decide their own policies, which includes the frequency of bin emptying.”