Abolishing Standards for England could cost more than it saves

10 Sep 10
The cost of abolishing the council standards watchdog could be more than two and a half times its annual budget, Public Finance has been told
By Jaimie Kaffash

10 September 2010

The cost of abolishing the council standards watchdog could be more than two and a half times its annual budget, Public Finance has been told. 

Standardsfor England – previously called the Standards Board for England – investigates complaints against local authorities that the councils themselves are unable to examine. These include complex cases and those involving chief executives and members of councils’ internal standards committees.

The government announced in May that the quango would be abolished as part of the Decentralisation and Localism Bill.

The board’s grant from the Department for Communities andLocal Government is just over £6m this financial year. However, the costs of scrapping it could be more than £15m, the Publicand Commercial Services union is claiming. 

The PCS says the winding-up costs are high because the quango has pension liabilities of £5.8m. As it is an admitted member of the Greater Manchester Pension Fund, part of the Local Government Pension Fund, the liabilities must be paid off when the SfE is abolished – unlike for bodies covered by central government pension schemes. As the board will remain a going concern until the legislation is enacted, this figure is likely to rise.

This cost is in addition to redundancy payouts to the board’s 62 staff, the depreciation of its assets and the usual costs of abolishing a public body.

A PCS spokesman said that the board’s functions would have to be transferred elsewhere at a cost.

‘If it's abolished, will councils investigate their own cases where they are conflicted in this way?’ he asked. ‘If another body does it, how exactly will this save money?’

He added that the idea of neighbouring local authorities taking these complaints on, or aiding with complex cases, would put more strain on councils, which are already under pressure. Furthermore, the SfE is responsible for giving advice to local authority staff. ‘Again, if someone else does it, where are the savings?’ the spokesman said.

A Standards for England spokeswoman told PF: ‘It is not possible to quantify all of these costs exactly at this moment as they depend on a number of factors but we will be discussing them with the DCLG when we consider our funding allocation for next year.’

Announcing the abolition of the quango in May, local government minister Bob Neill said: ‘Rather than improving standards in local government, the Standards Board regime has undermined them by fuelling frivolous and malicious complaints. It has damaged the reputation of councils and undermined public confidence in local democracy.’

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