Armchair Auditors

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The Conservative Government are keen that Local Authorities start putting financial information from their budgets online. One London Borough has already obliged (well before the January 2011 deadline) and placed the details of over 2000 transactions over the value of £500 from the month of August onto their website.

As an endlessly curious sort I had a quick look and have copied across three rows of the accounts below.

40 11/08/2010 HAYS EXECUTIVE 426274.1 Agency Hays Contract A/c Payments X
41 26/08/2010 HAYS EXECUTIVE 411774.8 Agency Hays Contract A/c Payments X
42 03/08/2010 HAYS EXECUTIVE 402810.47 Agency Hays Contract A/c Payments X

The three rows I chose were all to do with Hays Executive which I am fairly sure is a recruitment company. What drew my eye was the fact that three times over the month the authority in question were spending over £400,000 with the recruitment company; presumably, given the consistency of the payment, for the services of temporary and bank staff.

Over a year that would work out at nearly £40 £15 million (thank you Matt!) spent on temporary staff; a figure I found to be quite large.

This leads me to two questions:

1) What should I do with my concerns. If this was my authority I’d doubtless be asked to benchmark the data against other authorities and then establish whether it was a problem worth pursuing. But, it’s not and I don’t even live there (thank you Google news). The problem is that I don’t know if the figures are a big deal, nor whether they are for what I think they are for, nor whether there is any reason to get upset about them.

Is this not the problem for the army of so-called ‘armchair auditors’ (you and I) who are meant to be checking up on these data releases and holding local councils to account? Without context the whole thing is very tricky.

2) I have access to this blog so have taken the opportunity to share these figures here in the hope others will comment. This applies both to the data I have highlighted but other data releases coming from your local authorities or others in your area. Please do get in touch flagging up other inconsistencies or data you might highlight. Just in case you’ve forgotten we’re available at:

I don’t see the armchair auditing thing catching on but at the very least it might provide an interesting vignette or two into life before the crunch.

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6 Comments on “Armchair Auditors”

  1. Matt Says:

    I think the total for the year would be closer to £15 million, but I agree that whether this is a large authority or not, it indicates an inability to manage the business. It is inconceivable that (particularly in a supply-led job market) a corporation has no alternative to paying through the nose for staff. Maybe someone can explain the rationale behind this, but until then we can only assume it is incompetent management.

  2. Suzy Says:

    Can I suggest that as it’s Hays Executive it could also be fees for recruitment rather than temporary staff – maybe the council in question has had a cull of senior management? That would also make more sense than bank staff, surely, they would all be paid at the same time in a month through a payroll or similar, rather than at different times in a month, I think. We need a HR expert…

    Regardless of the details, though, good point well made that armchair auditors aren’t much use unless they have the time, inclination and possibly skills to take on a bit of journalistic investigating to get to the bottom of the figures.

    Or perhaps the armchair auditing is to be done by journalists? Do we trust the media to audit anything successfully or seriously?

  3. […] This post was Twitted by GlenOcsko […]

  4. theaudacityofboats Says:

    I believe the figure in my inner London borough is £47m p.a. on agency staff amounting to 23% of staffing budget

  5. localgovaswell Says:

    There’s a part of me that is tempted to say ‘only in London’ but maybe I’m wrong.
    I did a little investigating yesterday and the best I could do is put together an estimate that over the year it should come out at 10.5% or something similar… Is that more normal?
    Surely 23% is too high? (and probably 10% too but that’s a different issue!)

  6. […] this was going on whilst I was pondering the value of the so-called armchair auditors so it seemed sensible to follow up on a few points from Monday before I […]

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