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The newly renovated Lambeth Town Hall

Lambeth residents are seeking to shed light on their borough’s spending with a volunteer-driven initiative

By Otto Lanzavecchia

Citizens of Lambeth in south London are busy scrutinising the books of their local council, in the latest instalment of a citizen-led investigation into the borough’s accounting practices.

After the release of financial documents in 2016, Lambeth Council has been accused of “extensive financial mismanagement” by residents who are teaming up to seek further clarity.

Lambeth People’s Audit, the volunteer-run network leading the probe, is hoping to get more people on board. The group held its first drop-in event in a Brixton café last week to help interested citizens learn more about their rights to request information.

“Communication is key, especially for the more fragile,” said Tony, a local resident in search of answers at the drop-in event. “I’m a builder and I wouldn’t even know about these things if it weren’t for those folks who examined the documents last year.” Around 15 residents turned up throughout the event.

Brixton Pound Cafe, where the People's Audit drop-in event took place
The People’s Audit drop-in event happening inside Brixton Pound Café

Following a 2014 law to improve transparency in local governments, taxpayers gained the power to request large amounts of information from their council for the duration of one month every year. Lambeth’s People’s Audit analysed their council’s expense report for the previous year and found several inconsistencies.

Last August they published an open letter to Andrew Travers, Lambeth Council chief executive, in which they denounced the council’s lack of cooperation in disclosing essential information about the “millions of pounds of Lambeth taxpayers’ money that could have been saved.”

The letter said the Council had failed to explain why the cost of proposed renovations for the new Town Hall had spiralled from £50 million to £ 104 million by the time the contract had been approved.

The citizen investigators also noticed the addition of 110 new well-paid senior members of staff at a time of austerity, while the council has laid off more than 2,200 employers since 2010. On top of that, the council failed to provide a figure for the revenues generated from renting out public parks for private events in the Brixton area.

Mr Travers answered the open letter, stating that the council was “committed to transparency”. He recognised the council could do more and set out to address the points raised by his critics. However, this failed to satisfy the People’s Audit.

“The Love Lambeth website would give the casual observer the impression that Lambeth answered our questions. Yet, in the majority of instances, we did not get the information we asked for,” reads the volunteers’ answer to the chief executive.

The next drop-in event will be at Brixton Pound Café (77 Atlantic Rd, Brixton, London SW9 8PU) on the 6th of July.