Following the meeting with SurreyCC on 3rd November they issued a press release - agreed with Business, Trade Union and Voluntary group reps and including my quote acknowledging their decision to do a ‘Chairman’s Annual Report’ in future - but no answers to our tabled questions have yet been received as had been agreed.
Following that I wrote to the MD Audit, Audit Commission, for remedy or support under the heading of ACCOUNTability. He was in total support and provided facts and opinions all of which has been given to SCC in support of principles to be followed. The issues are: speed and intelligibility for lay resident taxpayers. It seems that local authorities are now the only ones remaining ‘out of step’ on speed, and narrative reporting as commentary on period activities which the numbers reflect.
I have now also asked for Audit Commission advice or comment on this question which my MP had in some form put to the Treasury. After some 5 months a reply by Liam Byrne has been forwarded to me without comment. This missed the main point of my concern and tells me little I didn’t already know:
“These (Whole of Government Accounts) are due for the first time for 2009-10 and will be the subject of a report by the C&AG to Parliament. Budgets are to follow in 2011. Where may I see how this major and overdue departure has been ‘sold’ to all affected parties ? Is the exercise merely to improve the stock of financial information, or to reflect local authorities and quangos etc as being wholly owned subsidiaries, which they surely are because funded, charges and inter-transfers apart, from national taxes in which council tax is included ?. Or is this a late step into ‘world class’ financial practice which may put us where the EU was 14 years ago ? I wonder what behaviour change may follow from eg offering central government the temptation to confiscate surplus cash held by local bodies. Furthermore if the latter is the way we are going then doesn’t local ACCOUNTability become superfluous and to be replaced by direct accounting to us by the Chancellor – something I have long believed is overdue anyway ?”
Surely, too, in the 21st century it is time we the deserving poor were actively educated and regularly informed, in the context of public finances, about the deficit, public debt, and GDP ?
Another important point of concern for tax value for money and decision-making has emerged from the dialogue with SCC. They have started to talk of ‘unit costs’ and ‘pricing’ as if to impress, which will of itself ‘cost’. Unit costs cannot exist without cost accounting which is not known in government (as confirmed by the Audit Commission) and indeed may not be necessary. Similarly, ‘pricing' can only have meaning in a ‘marketing’ and revenue generation sense. If linked to unverified (in the dynamic sense) ‘unit costs’ it is meaningless and therefore wasted numerical game playing. It looks like another case of our money being misdirected towards new toys to play with at least 50 years after industrial sector deployment.
Our Steve Bowers had one of his crystal clear letters published demanding a council tax freeze. I followed up the TPA parking fines research with a quote requested by the Surrey Advertiser. My letter was published pointing out the lazy cash management on the part of all but 3 boroughs who have not yet invoiced Surrey Police with the £1.2m cost of rebilling for the capped precept increase worth £1.5m.
Late in the month a number of us have debated and analysed our position relative to SCC to guide us when going back in January to hear more about the budget and precept. This is thought to be of wider interest and can be summarised for any enquirers.