Delayed audit opinions continue to be a major concern in the local audit system. The growing scale of the challenge is illustrated by the latest figures compiled by PSAA. As at the target date of 30 September 2021 only 9% of local government bodies’ 2020/21 audits have been completed. The position compares to completion of 45% of 2019/20 audits and 57% of 2018/19 audits by the respective target dates of 30 November 2020 and 31 July 2019.
The challenges posed by Covid-19 have contributed to the current position. However, a range of further pressures documented in the Redmond Report are also continuing to impact performance. In particular there is a shortage of auditors with the knowledge and experience to deliver the required higher quality audits of statements of accounts, which increasingly reflect complex structures and transactions, within the timeframe expected. The growing backlog of audits is also a concern, with 70 of the 2019/20 audits still incomplete.
The new Liaison Committee established by the Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has a vital role in helping to ensure co-ordinated action in response to Sir Tony Redmond’s recommendations and in overseeing the overall progress and performance of the local audit system. It is currently working to develop a strategy to improve the timeliness of opinions within a more resilient, sustainable system.
DLUHC’s Spring Statement and recent consultation on the Local Audit Framework are key steps in addressing necessary improvements including the need for effective systems leadership.
Steve Freer, PSAA’s Chair said,
“Delayed audit opinions have a real public-facing impact, undermining the ability of local bodies to account effectively for their stewardship of public money to taxpayers. These latest results reflect a further significant deterioration in performance, underlining the imperative for the whole system to work together urgently to restore timely completion of audits before public confidence and trust are seriously damaged.”