Draft Prospectus for 2023 and beyond

Responding to the post-2018 pressures

In our view the audit market will continue to be relatively unstable and difficult to predict for a further period of time as the Government continues to develop and implement its policy response to the four independent reviews – Kingman, CMA, Brydon, and Redmond; as further regulatory pressure is applied; and as firms respond and adapt. Organisations attempting to procure audit services of an appropriate quality during this period are likely to experience markedly greater challenges than pre-2018.

Local government audit will not be immune from these difficulties. However, we do believe that bodies which opt into PSAA’s national scheme will be in a better position than those which choose to make their own separate arrangements. Firms are more likely to make positive decisions to bid for larger, long term contracts, offering secure income streams, than they are to invest in bidding for a multitude of individual opportunities.

The national scheme already offers a range of benefits for its members:

  • transparent and independent auditor appointment via a third party;
  • the best opportunity to secure the appointment of a qualified, registered auditor;
  • appointment, if possible, of the same auditors to bodies involved in significant collaboration/joint working initiatives, if the parties believe that it will enhance efficiency and value for money;
  • on-going management of any independence issues which may arise;
  • access to a dedicated team with significant experience of working within the context of the relevant regulations to appoint auditors, managing contracts with audit firms, and setting and determining audit fees;
  • a value for money offer based on minimising PSAA costs and distribution of any surpluses to scheme members;
  • collective savings for the sector through undertaking one major procurement as opposed to a multiplicity of smaller procurements;
  • a sector-led collaborative scheme supported by an established advisory panel of sector representatives to help inform the design and operation of the scheme;
  • avoiding the necessity for local bodies to establish an auditor panel and undertake an auditor procurement, enabling time and resources to be deployed on other pressing priorities;
  • providing regular updates to Section 151 officers on a range of local audit related matters and our work, to inform and support effective auditor-audited body relationships; and
  • concerted efforts to develop a more sustainable local audit market.

However, the challenge for 2023 and beyond is to develop the scheme further, by listening to the feedback from scheme members, suppliers and other stakeholders and learning from the collective post-2018 experience. This work is already firmly underway. During the past three years we have taken a number of initiatives to improve the operation of the scheme for the benefit of all parties including:

  • proactively and constructively engaging with the numerous high-profile industry reviews, including the significant Redmond Review into Local Authority Financial Reporting and External Audit;
  • commissioning an independent review undertaken by Cardiff Business School of the design and implementation of our appointing person role to help shape our thinking about future arrangements;
  • commissioning an independent review by consultancy firm Touchstone Renard of the sustainability of the local government audit market, which identified a number of distinctive challenges in the current local audit market. We published the report to inform debate and support ongoing work to strengthen the system and help to deliver long term sustainability;
  • working with MHCLG to identify ways to address concerns about fees by developing a new approach to fee variations which would seek wherever possible to determine additional fees at a national level where changes in audit work apply to all or most opted-in bodies;
  • the establishment of a Local Audit Quality Forum, which is free of charge to opted-in bodies and has to date held five well attended events on relevant topics;
  • using our advisory panel and attending meetings of the various Treasurers’ Societies and S151 officer meetings to share updates on our work, discuss audit-related developments, and listen to feedback;
  • maintaining contact with those registered audit firms that are not currently contracted with us, to build relationships and understand their thinking on working within the local audit market;
  • undertaking research to enable a better understanding of the outcomes of electors’ objections and statements of reasons issued since our establishment in April 2015; and
  • sharing our experiences with and learning from other organisations that commission local audit services such as Audit Scotland, the NAO, and Crown Commercial Services.

Importantly, we are also currently working closely with a range of local audit stakeholders including MHCLG, FRC, NAO, and the LGA to help identify and develop further initiatives to strengthen the local audit. In many cases desirable improvements are not within PSAA’s sole gift and accordingly it is essential that this work is undertaken collaboratively with a common aim to ensure that local government continues to be served by an audit market which is able to meet the sector’s needs and which is attractive to a range of well-equipped suppliers.

One of PSAA’s most important obligations is to make an appropriate auditor appointment to each and every opted-in body. Prior to making appointments for the second appointing period, commencing on 1 April 2023, we plan to undertake a major procurement enabling suppliers to enter into new long term contracts with PSAA.

In the event that the procurement fails to attract sufficient capacity to enable auditor appointments to every opted-in body, we have fallback options to extend one or more existing contracts for the period spanning 2023/24 and 2024/25.

We are very conscious of the value represented by these contract extension options, particularly given the current challenging market conditions. However, rather than simply extending existing contracts for two years (with significant uncertainty attaching to the outcomes of a further procurement to take effect from 1 April 2025), we believe that it is preferable, if possible, to enter into new long term contracts with suppliers at realistic market prices to coincide with the commencement of the next appointing period.

Prior to initiating the procurement we will set out the detailed basis on which, if necessary, the fallback decision to extend one or more current contracts will be taken. One of the objectives of our approach will be to encourage firms to participate in the procurement and in doing so to ensure that their tenders reflect realistic market bid prices.

The MHCLG has recently undertaken a consultation proposing amendments to the Appointing Person Regulations. Subject to its outcome and the approval of relevant changes to the regulations, we are minded to set the length of the next compulsory appointing period as the five consecutive financial years commencing 1 April 2023.

In late September we plan to formally invite all eligible bodies to opt into the scheme for the second appointing period. We intend that bodies will be able to commit to join the scheme until the end of January 2022.

IMPORTANT TO NOTE: A decision to become an opted-in authority must be taken in accordance with the Regulations, that is by the members of an authority meeting as a whole, except where the authority is a corporation sole, such as a police and crime commissioner, in which case this decision can be taken by the holder of that office.

We hope you will be interested in the development of the national scheme for the second appointing period. We are keen to hear your views to help us shape our approach. Details of how you can send us your views are set out  in the Consultation: Tell us your views section.

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