The Comptroller and Auditor General has qualified his audit opinion on the 2008-09 accounts of the Equality and Human Rights Commission owing to irregular expenditure in a number of areas.
In particular, the Commission entered into seven Single Tender Procurement Actions over £50,000 without seeking the appropriate authority from the Government Equalities Office (GEO). The Commission’s review of its procurement also identified some serious failings in procurement activity such as inadequate forward planning and a lack of focus on compliance with procedures.
The Commission has made immediate and significant changes to improve its procurement processes. It has removed a number of delegated authorities to incur expenditure, has restricted the number of people authorized to raise requisitions and has applied additional authorization processes for all high value purchases. The Commission is also taking action to ensure that all its staff understand the procurement rules and comply with them.
Another area of irregular expenditure related to maximum pay rises for permanent employees, which the Commission is required to agree with HM Treasury and the GEO annually. The Commission breached the agreed limits for 2007-08 and 2008-09, with average increases for staff of 6.81 per cent (against a maximum of 4.65 per cent) in the last six months of 2007-08 and 4.8 per cent (against a maximum of 4.45 per cent) in 2008-09. As a result of this breach, in December 2009 the GEO imposed a financial penalty of £508,000 on the Commission. However, the Commission’s breach of the remit was unintentional and reflected the fact that it employed a lower number of permanent staff than originally estimated when agreeing the remit. The Commission considers that this problem related to the set up phase of the Commission and should not recur.