It emerges that this has been because there was vehement disagreement between the Commission and Pickels’ department over who would be paying for the cost of shutting it all down. One idea that was floated involved passing the costs down to councils through the Commission’s audit fees for its final year. This would have gone down like a lead balloon, and would have unfairly penalised councils for a process they had no power over.
It emerged at this Tuesday’s Audit Committee that the Commission have now agreed with the Department for Communities & Local Government that any costs which aren’t covered by the Commission’s reserves will be borne by central government. There is still no agreement on how to handle the pension fund, but at least it’s confirmed councils won’t be picking up the tab.
In the mean time what happens to the people and the Commission? Well they don’t know! Government has yet to publish a bill which abolishes the Commission. Timing is critical because shutdown can’t happen in the middle of a financial year, any slippage will push things back at least a year.
The Commission are also exploring setting themselves up as a worker-owned mutual, or selling themselves off in some way to existing audit firms. But ministers have yet to say what they might consider approving, any terms or conditions they would seek to apply such transactions etc.
So the highly qualified and experienced staff at the Commission are left to either continue in a situation of serious uncertainty or look elsewhere for a more stable working environment. Pickles has made a complete mess of what was an unnecessary and ideological closure in the first place.