The view from: David Walker: Accounting & Business

Posted on October 1, 2011 · Posted in Accounting & Business

Accounting & Business profile

David Walker

Former director of communications, Audit Commission

Why did you leave the Audit Commission?

The Commission was seized with deep anxiety about its future and its communications activities were reducing hugely. My job was disappearing. There were issues that I wanted to have a public voice on, which I felt I could not have while at the Commission.

What is your opinion of the abolition of the Audit Commission?

There is a real danger regarding the probity of public expenditure. A body under sentence of death doesn’t do things that it otherwise would. Auditors that should be closely examining accounts of public bodies are perhaps unwilling to blow the whistle because the Commission is closing. Councils are setting their budgets. It’s an open secret that this is difficult and there are gaps in the budget lines. In the past, auditors would have said this. That is not happening because the Commission is in limbo – and may stay in limbo until 2014. So for a lengthy period of time we will have a body charged with monitoring probity that won’t be doing the things that it should be doing. And that is just in local government. There are also issues arising from the health reforms regarding primary care.

Do you believe the Audit Commission will convert to an employee mutual?

It’s a red herring. As far as I can gather, it’s something the Government thought about after the decision to abolish was taken. The decision was taken by people who seem to have been completely uninformed about the structure of the audit market. Mutualisation could only work if the auditors who currently work for the Commission were guaranteed future work, which would be incompatible with a competitive market and is contrary to the reasons given for the abolition of the Commission. Mutualisation is a term that has been used, but I wait to see any evidence that anyone thought through what this might mean.

What are you doing now?

I have gone back to journalism and commentary, plus some public policy work. It’s a mixture – what is called these days ‘a portfolio’.

FAST FACTS

£200bn – expenditure of local public bodies audited by the Commission

11,000 – local public bodies audited

£220m – total Commission expenditure in 2009/10