Responding to the post-2018 pressures
MHCLG’s Spring statement proposes changes to the current arrangements. At the time of writing, a formal consultation on the proposals in the Spring statement is underway and is due to close on 22 September 2021. The significant work to reform audit in the wake of the four independent reviews is underway. Further wide-ranging change is almost certain to occur during the next few years, and is very likely to have an impact during the appointing period that will commence in April 2023. 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 PSAA’s national scheme will be the best option to enable local bodies to secure audit services in a very challenging market. 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.
We believe that 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.
The national scheme from 2023/24 will build on the current scheme having listened to the feedback from scheme members, suppliers and other stakeholders and learning from the collective post-2018 experience.
Since 2018 we have taken a number of initiatives to improve the operation of the scheme for the benefit of all parties including:
- commissioning an independent review undertaken by Cardiff Business School of the design of the scheme 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;
- proactively and constructively engaging with the various independent reviews, including the significant Redmond Review into Local Authority Financial Reporting and External Audit;
- 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;
- establishing the Local Audit Quality Forum, which has to date held five well attended events on relevant topics, to strengthen engagement with Audit Committee Chairs and Chief Finance Officers;
- 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.
As a member of the newly formed Local Audit Liaison Committee (established by MHCLG as outlined in its Spring statement), we are working closely with a range of local audit stakeholders including MHCLG, FRC, NAO, ICAEW, CIPFA and the LGA to help identify and develop further initiatives to strengthen 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 bodies continue 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 or realistic market prices, we have fallback options to extend one or more existing contracts for 2023/24 and also 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 likely success 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.
MHCLG has recently undertaken a consultation proposing amendments to the Appointing Person Regulations. We have set the length of the next compulsory appointing period to cover the audits of the five consecutive financial years commencing 1 April 2023.
 Immediately prior to the publication of this document it was announced that MHCLG has been renamed to Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). The document refers to the department as MHCLG.Back to top