Pickles: ‘Audit Commission became tool of new Labour’

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has said the soon-to-be axed Audit Commission had become a “tool of New Labour”.

In an interview with Public Finance magazine, Pickles reassured councils that audit fees will not rise under the new regime, despite concerns they would, and that by allowing councils the ability to pick their auditors from the free market it would drive down costs.

The Government plans to shift the auditing of local authority accounts to private firms from 2012, following its decision to axe the commission last August.

The Government has also raised the possibility that a new employee-owned mutual incarnation of the commission could be formed which may also bid for local authority contracts against the private firms.

In a letter sent to councils in June, it said out of the two options – selling the Audit Commission or outsourcing contracts to the private sector (30% are already done this way) – the latter represented better value for money.

He told Public Finance magazine: “I just think they became the tool of New Labour and I didn’t want them to become my tool. I wanted something independent. But there’s nothing wrong with the auditing function, they do it very well.”