Audit Commission housing staff in bid to salvage jobs as organisation is scrapped
Shocked inspectors mount rescue mission
Audit Commission staff could set up an independent consultancy to carry out housing inspections following the quango’s shock abolition.
Communitites secretary Eric Pickles announced last Friday that he would scrap the commission, which has 2,000 staff, from 2012/13. He said the move would save £50 million.
Ministers are now working with commission bosses, major accountancy firms and local government on a new ‘decentralised’ system, which will see the commission’s audit practice transferred to the private sector. They are considering a number of options for the transfer including a John Lewis-style mutual company.
Audit represents 70 to 80 per cent of the commission’s business, but inspection, which is dominated by housing, could also pass to a separate organisation run by current staff.
A source close to the commission said: ‘The mutual model is mainly on the audit side. There are other options involving housing inspection: staff could create some sort of consultancy.’
Michael O’Higgins, chair of the commission, said he had held meetings with private sector firms in the months prior to Friday’s shock announcement to discuss the possibility of transferring some of the organisation’s audit function to save staff from redundancies.
He said a number of firms involved had since contacted him to confirm they were still interested.
In a letter to Eric Pickles this week, Mr O’Higgins reiterated his enthusiasm for a staff buy-out. He wrote: ‘We noted with great interest your suggestion of an employee buy-out to form a mutual organisation and will pursue this avenue energetically.’
Accountancy firms and housing consultancies have stated an interest in taking on audit and inspection roles.
Paul Woolston, government and public sector assurance leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said the commission’s dominance of local authority audits was seen as ‘unsustainable, given the vibrant and competitive private sector marketplace’.
‘It is quite likely that a new regime will see a reduction in fees and an improvement in quality, not least because the public sector is increasingly demanding advisers who have both public and private sector experience, something the commission always struggled to provide.’
Greg Campbell, director of consultancy firm Campbell Tickell, said: ‘If there was a performance-related function, we would have a look at it as we have an established track record in working on inspections and assisting housing providers in preparing for inspection.’
Audit Commission abolition
“By blocking this massive [£240,000] salary for the Audit Commission [chief executive], I want to send a signal to councils that they too can stop paying ridiculous sums to chief executives.”
“This feather-bedded quango should not be using our money trying to save expensive, box-ticking regulation which is simply not working.”
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