20 July 2012

Obstructing the Armchair Auditors - the evidence

As readers will know any resident can pop along to the council during a set time in the year, usually in July, and inspect the Accounts for the council tax year that just ended in March.

This right is conferred under the Audit Commission Act which includes the following within S14

A person who has the custody of any such document and—
(a) obstructs a person in the exercise of a right under this section to inspect or make copies of the document, or
(b) refuses to give copies of the document to a person entitled under this section to obtain them, is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine...

Let us look at the evidence to see if obstruction has taken place.

Mr Reasonable, Mrs Angry and Mr Mustard went to North London Business Park. We were there for hours and didn't achieve much in the way of an armchair audit because the documents that we wanted to audit were so heavily redacted as to make the task impossible. Now listen to the 30 second extract of the meeting, the first voice you hear is Mr Reasonable, then Mrs Angry and then a senior lady officer telling us why the documents had been redacted (when they shouldn't have been). Mr Mustard often tapes council meetings so that he can accurately transcribe what was said and to avoid those "he said, she said" arguments

So what did the senior lady officer say about the suppliers' invocies we were looking at "on the redaction that's what they've asked us to do" and other words confirming that suppliers have been approached and redaction has followed.

So, now look at one of the invoices that Mr Mustard asked to see (blue post-it note added by Mr Mustard to hide some invoice and personal data)

In fact this is two copies of the same invoice. Needless to say the bottom section is what Barnet Council provided.

Mr Mustard was surprised that the item description was redacted by Barnet Council supposedly at the behest of the supplier, London Councils.

At the meeting when he obtained the useless copies the fourth visitor, Mr J, had mentioned that London Councils also opened their books up for an annual audit. Mr Mustard thought he would take advantage and see if he got the same redacted copies. This is what he sent at 5.37pm on Wednesday:

I am interested in your accounts for the above year. All I want to see are the invoices issued to Barnet Council for the year for using the services of PATAS which will only be 5 or 6 documents I believe.

I can turn up on 9 August as I am in central London that day but thought you might consider simply scanning them and sending them to me as that would be quicker for both parties and as we are now within the inspection period.

I look forward to hearing from you

The following morning at 11.36 the reply arrived. Mr Mustard has thanked London Council for being staggeringly efficient and very helpful. Look how much you have to learn at Barnet Council.

Not only did Mr Mustard receive all of the invoices without a single crossing out, he was also given useful extra explanation.

Just one point of clarification. The unit charges stated on the invoices are rounded to 2 decimal places, as this is the limitation for inputting data into monetary fields on the accounting system. The actual unit charge to boroughs during 2011/12 for the fixed costs of PATAS is £0.4953 (instead of the £0.50 itemised on the invoices). The correct unit charge is reflected in the total cost charged to Barnet - for instance, in respect of the first quarter, 35,846.5 x £0.4953 = £17,754.77 as correctly entered on the invoice

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require any further information. 

The invoices don't seem to be a state secret, do they?

What conclusion should one come to about Barnet Council?

They are being obstructive. Why? They seem to acting under the assumption that they have some sort of obligation to safeguard data that the supplier of is happy to be released ( Mr Mustard wasn't intending to blog the A4 lever arch file of invoices he obtained from Barnet Council - they were in order to increase his knowledge and so he could try and ascertain if the council tax payer was receiving value for money - he has only blogged this one page out of 200 so that you, the council tax payer, can see for yourself how bloggers get messed about by Barnet Council ) they think they are in a castle that they have to defend, they have forgotten they are public servants and that everything they do is with our money.

You also look pretty stupid today Barnet Council officers.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


  1. A reasonable person could come to the conclusion that there is a conspiracy afoot in Barnet to deny any information to its residents because they have something to hide.

  2. heaven forfend, Mr Reasonable. I just cannot believe that might be the case, and I am shocked by nyour cynicism.


I now moderate comments in the light of the Delfi case. Due to the current high incidence of spam I have had to turn word verification on.