NAO Report on Local Authority Governance is a Missed Opportunity for Monitoring Officers

Publish date: 15/01/2019

The report by the National Audit Office on Local Authority Governance (released today) examines whether local governance arrangements provide local taxpayers and Parliament with assurance that local authority spending achieves value for money and that authorities are financially sustainable. The report is welcome but misses a key recommendation to include MO's in a review of the impact of status reduction and efficacy of their statutory reporting arrangements; restricting it to 151 Officers only.

LLG have noted for some time that the risk profiles of local authorities have increased substantially over the last 8 years and welcomes many of the key findings in the National Audit Office's (NAO) report on Local Authority Governance. We also recognise synergies with 151 officers reporting a reduced ability to deliver their role when they do not report directly to their Chief Executive Officer. Indeed, LLG have long argued that the increasing lower status of Heads of Legal in many local authorities affects their ability to bring influence to bear on material decisions and creates difficulties when acting as the Monitoring Officer. Whilst LLG notes the LGA's reported position that no evidence exists for this premise, LLG strongly advocate (based on continual member feedback and experience in the field), that such downgrading has and does materially impact on the role of the Monitoring Officer and governance across the board. LLG wants to see the status of MO's and Heads of Legal included in the recommendation of the NAO to review the status of both MO's and 151 Officers including the efficacy of their statutory reporting arrangements. Further, the role of the Monitoring Officer is not just restricted to unlawful decision making and maladministration as identified in the report. It also places responsibility for the conduct of councillors and crucially, the operation of a council's constitution which goes to the very heart of governance. LLG will be liaising directly with the Ministry to push for a review of Monitoring Officer status alongside that of the 151 Officer and ensure that the role of the MO is properly understood

Suki Binjal, President, commented "whilst LLG welcomes this report, there is a missed opportunity with respect to strengthening the arm of the monitoring officer in local authority scrutiny and governance. To talk about s151 officers in isolation is missing a trick. The triangle of good governance; the CEO, the s151 Officer, and the Monitoring Officer all need to be at the heart of decision making and strengthened in its entirety rather than in part"

The report can be accessed here