The National Audit Office (NAO) today reports that less than half of local councils, local police and local fire bodies’ 2019-20 audits were completed by the revised deadline of 30 November 2020, despite this having been pushed back to take account of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Delays in completing audited accounts can have significant implications for local accountability and the effective management of public money.
Local public bodies deliver many services to residents, businesses and taxpayers and account for a significant amount of public spending. In 2019-20, local councils, local police and local fire bodies in England spent nearly £100 billion delivering these services. High quality audit is essential for public trust in how taxpayers’ money is spent.
The NAO’s report examines the timeliness of auditor reporting on English local public bodies’ financial statements covering 2019-20, against the revised publication deadline of 30 November 2020. It sets out stakeholders’ views on the factors underlying late delivery and the impact of this.
The various organisations1 involved in the local audit system, alongside the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, took action following NAO reports on local authority governance and auditor reporting in 20192. However, there was a further decrease in auditors delivering opinions in time for accounts publication deadlines, falling from 57% in 2018-19 to 45% in 2019-20. In 2017-18 87% had been issued by the deadline. These delays, alongside concerns about audit quality and doubts over audit firms’ willingness to continue to audit local public bodies, highlight that the situation needs urgent attention.
The NAO also publishes a data visualisation of local auditor reporting in England, which maps the areas where auditors have issued their auditor report and whether or not they are satisfied with the local public bodies’ financial statements and their arrangements to secure value for money. This has now been updated to include local auditor reports for NHS providers and commissioners for the 2019-20 financial year.