Local Audit and Accountability Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:48 pm on 28th October 2013.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 4:48 pm, 28th October 2013

The Bill might appear to some to be rather dry—[Hon. Members: “No!”] I am relieved to hear that.

As the Secretary of State has said, the Bill principally concerns how we ensure the probity, economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the spending of billions of pounds of public money. As we have heard, it might be said that the Bill, introduced by one of the late Baroness Thatcher’s great supporters, seeks both to extend, through greater transparency in council meetings—the subject of her private Member’s Bill, as the Secretary of State has reminded us—and to overturn, through the abolition of the Audit Commission, part of her political legacy. The Audit Commission was of course set up by the noble Lord Heseltine. As he explained in his autobiography—it is important to remember this:

“I thought it wrong in principle, as the 1976 Layfield Report had said, that councils should be able to appoint their own auditors. Awkward auditors do not get reappointed.”

That was his judgment.

Lord Heseltine’s creation did have achievements to its credit, although we did not hear them from the Secretary of State. It contributed to savings in local government and it developed value-for-money comparisons. I think I am right in saying that it was the Audit Commission that appointed John Magill under section 13 of the Local Government Finance Act 1982 to investigate Shirley Porter and the homes for votes scandal in Westminster.