James Forsyth

Pickles axes the Audit Commission

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Eric Pickles’ decision to scrap the Audit Commission is further evidence that Pickles is the minister prepared to move quickest on the cuts agenda. It is a bold decision and one that is going to come under heavy attack. The Audit Commission’s supporters will claim that it is self defeating to scrap the watchdog that checks that public services are delivering value for money.

Set against that, though, has to be the culture of excessive pay and waste at its hearts. Until Pickles intervened, it wanted to pay its new chairman £240,000. Notably John Denham in his statement tonight opposing the abolition of the Audit Commission, felt obliged to say, ‘I had warned the Audit Commission against excessive wage increases and their fate seemed to be sealed when they ignored this’.

The Audit Commission, as the Telegraph points out, also didn’t help its cause when under the last government it paid £60,000 to lobbyists who ‘advised it to "combat the activities of Eric Pickles", then the Tory party chairman.’

Veterans of the cuts debate will, of course, recall that it was Steve Bundred, the former head of the Audit Commission, who was the first big figure to point out just how large the cuts were going to have to be to set the nation back on a fiscally sustainable path. When he said that, he probably wasn’t expecting that the Audit Commission would be one of the things that would go as part of that process