Sunday, July 05, 2009

Audits and pundits

The Audit Commission is a public corporation that describes itself as “an independent watchdog, driving economy, efficiency and effectiveness in local public services to deliver better outcomes for everyone”. Its areas of work are: auditing local public services; carrying out performance assessments for councils, fire and rescue services, and housing organisations; producing research; and helping public bodies to detect fraud and error.

Its Chief Executive, Steve Bundred, has a comment piece in today’s Observer, in which he argues:

for British politicians it is not the recovery that is important - but voter reaction to the threat of cuts. That is why neither ministers nor opposition frontbenchers will be completely candid in the run-up to an election.

I agree. But what business does the CE of the Audit Commission have producing an opinion column speculating about public opinion and the motives and integrity of politicians? There are already vast numbers of pundits in the press and online writing stuff like this.

The bipartisan nature of his criticism doesn’t diminish the fact that it’s a political intervention (indeed, Nick Clegg on Wednesday accused Labour and the Tories of engaging in a “bogus debate about public spending…so that they can both avoid telling the truth”; Bundred’s comment could be seen to fit very neatly with that).

What may be even more alarming is that Bundred appears unable to count. Up to one. He mentions that the UK government has been “placed on negative watch by credit reference agencies”.

Agencies plural. Certainly, Standard & Poor’s put the UK’s AAA rating on a negative outlook in May, but the other agencies, Moody’s and Fitch, have held the rating stable.

It’s a pointlessly small mistake, from someone who should know much, much better. It’s the sort of slackness you’d expect from a journalistic pundit wanting a punchier sentence. Is that what he wants to be?

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