Friday, 18 June 2010

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles’ dangerous attack on Audit Commission

The Daily Mail and Eric Pickles share an obsession about dustbins. I noticed colleagues in Hull reckon-like I do- than Pickles little outburst this morning will have little impact on local authorities.

Eric Pickles is the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.  Unfortunately no-one seems to have told him he is no longer in opposition.

Earlier today his Department issued a press statement in which the Minister, in typical populist fashion, accuses the well-respected Audit Commission of “forcing” local councils to move from weekly to alternate weekly bin collections.  His full statement is here.

My Birkdale Ward colleague Simon Shaw has serious concerns about Eric Pickles’ attack on the independence of the Audit Commission.  Simon is a Chartered Accountant, who has worked as an auditor, as well as being former Chair of Sefton Council’s Audit Committee.

This is what Simon has to say: “Mr Pickles says he has written to the Audit Commission today instructing them to withdraw their guidance contained in a document called ‘Waste Management Quick Guide’.”

“It is a very dangerous slippery slope where a politician, of whatever party, issues a directive to the supposedly independent Audit Commission telling them what to think.”

Simon has managed to obtain a copy of the “offending” Audit Commission document, and you can read it in full on our website.

“I contacted the Audit Commission earlier today and they confirm that the ‘Quick Guide’ has never been issued to local councils, but was merely an internal document to assist inspectors.”

“Most reasonable people would say it is thoroughly balanced.  Indeed in one key section it says this: ‘Alternate week collections will not suit all councils or all areas. They do not always offer the best solution.’ (Page 18, Paragraph 7)”

“The new Minister needs to reconsider.  We had enough of the last Labour Government “instructing” everybody what to do and think without Eric Pickles joining in.”


  1. The description of the Audit Commission as being 'well-respected' begs the question by whom. Is Simon Shaw aware that it charges NHS Trusts between 2.5 and 3 times the market rate for signing off their accounts and requires its appointees, usually the big four accountancy firms, to do the same. How effective are these audits in preventing malpractice and avoiding wasteful use of public funds? That is another question. I hope that the Audit Committee Simon serves on is a bit more inquisitive than some.

  2. Its all gone quiet over there! What is concerning the good folks of Birkdale prior to GO's budget tomorrow? Their bin collections, Eric Pickles, Wayne Rooney, Fabio Capello or just how much money has been wasted by the quango meisters who have been milking the public purse for the last thirteen or so years. By all means let's have Audit Committees comprised of people with the wit and resolve to ask searching questions but nodding donkeys would be better than some of those who are paid £1,000 per month to turn up for four meetings a year to sit on their hands.

  3. Government minister Eric Pickles should know that Sefton's fortnightly bin collection has helped save us residents £1 million on our council tax ! That's because it has boosted our recycling rate and saved the soaring cost of rubbish dumped in landfill. To go back to weekly would cost £7 million, according to a report produced by the council's finance director.

    In opposition, Mr Pickles was the Tory leading cheerleader for the Daily Mail, Express and Telegraph - media all against fortnightly collections - even though more than half of the councils in the country use the system and the top recycling local authorities all use it.

    Now, as reported in the media, even though he is a government minister and should now know the real facts, he has controversially put pressure on the Audit Commission - the government's financial watchdog - to withdraw its guidance notes for councils which confirm that fortnightly refuse collection makes financial sense.

    In all his media rantings in the past, Mr Pickles has significantly failed to point out that many of the councils that still provide a weekly service only have half-size small wheelie bins, which means that people are "forced" to recycle because the wheelies simply aren't big enough !

    Weekly refuse collection locally would result in a drop in our recycling rate, now around 40 per cent, because lots of people would just put everything into the grey wheelie bin, rather than take the extra time and trouble to separate materials. This would increase the cost of getting rid of bin waste. The landfill tax, which is a very attractive "green" earner for our cash-strapped government, is currently £48 a tonne and goes up £8 a tonne every year. On top of this is the cost of transport to the landfill site where the owners charge a gate fee per tonne.

    The amount of waste that Sefton sends to landfill is around 100,000 tonnes per annum. Do your own sums ! How a government minister can seriously suggest wasting council tax payers money by still sticking to his ill-informed campaign beggars belief.

    The full text of the internal Audit Commision's guidance notes which Mr Pickles has told them to change can be seen as a link on the local blog. Just Google Birkdale Blog. These notes are excellent and demonstrate clearly the complexities of waste.


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