Lib Dem cuts weaken fight against corruption and fraud

Liberal Democrat plans to cut £1.18 billion from the budgets of quangos, unveiled yesterday by leader Nick Clegg, include the abolition of “the Standards Board for England” and the scaling back of the Audit Commission – both key watchdogs in the fight against corruption and fraud.

Standards for England, whose 2009-10 budget is £7.42 million, is the only body that provides an overview of how local authorities promote and improve their members’ conduct. They also probe misconduct allegations against elected councillors, mayors or assembly members, one of the most high profile being the investigation into Ken Livingstone in 2005.

According to a survey carried out by BMG Research, 94 per cent of council members and officers support the need for a Code of Conduct (p. 9), with 44 per cent saying standards had improved since the board was established (p. 19).

A Standards for England spokesperson told Left Foot Forward:

“Without Standards for England there would be no independent, national organisation to regulate the way authorities deal with member conduct and to ensure that the ethical standards framework operates consistently and fairly.

“If local authority standards committees are failing in their duties, we can suspend their powers. This independent oversight is essential in maintaining and improving the public’s confidence in local democracy.”

The Audit Commission – which would be forced to carry out “less [sic] inspections” under the reforms – audits, assesses and researches the £200 billion spent by 11,000 local public bodies. Its website boasts that it promotes “value for money for taxpayers,” and says that its National Fraud Initiative alone has identified £450 million of fraud and overpayments since it was established.

In total 86 quangos will be affected by the streamlining proposals: 13 will be merged with existing quangos, six will be merged into a new ‘super-quango’, 20 will be centralised into their Whitehall departments, seven will be reduced, two made self-funding and 38 “culled.”

The quango proposals account for two-thirds of the £1.82 billion of savings identified by ‘A better politics for less,’ the remainder coming from reducing the number and cost of MPs, Ministers and Peers.

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