Final Prospectus 2023 and beyond

Response to consultation feedback

PSAA consulted with eligible bodies and other stakeholders on our draft prospectus for the national scheme for local auditor arrangements from April 2023, and with the audit services market on important features of its procurement strategy. The insight provided from both these important consultations has helped to shape the arrangements that PSAA will implement from 2023/24. Key areas are highlighted below.

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Evolution of the Local Audit Framework

The consultation responses highlight the need for system-wide change. In many areas it is not within PSAA’s remit to effect the significant change required.

The newly formed Local Audit Liaison Committee (as outlined in MHCLG’s Spring statement), has enabled PSAA to highlight the need for a range of actions to tackle the identified issues that are essential to support a more stable, more resilient, and more sustainable local audit system. Sometimes the actions can be taken by individual organisations, but more frequently responsibility lies collectively across the system. The Liaison Committee and its members are now taking actions forward, including:

  • All stakeholders to communicate the importance of audit timeliness as a consistent message to audit firms;
  • PSAA to work with the FRC to develop the approach to quality evaluation of tenders;
  • MHCLG and other stakeholders to understand the extent of potential increased audit costs for all eligible bodies and to consider how these might be met;
  • All stakeholders to consider ways in which to attract new entrants (firms and Key Audit Partners) into the market;
  • Central government departments to provide clarity on the direction of local audit policy to inform firms’ consideration ahead of next procurement;
  • The NAO and FRC to work together to consider how they can provide clarity about the future direction of the Code of Audit Practice to firms ahead of the next procurement; and
  • MHCLG, CIPFA and the LGA to consider how to support finance departments with accounting and audit requirements.

In the vast majority of the areas consulted on which were within PSAA’s remit, responses were supportive of our proposals for the national scheme from 2023/24 which is very encouraging. Areas where we have revisited and evolved our approach are highlighted below.

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Minimum Audit Fees

Audit fees are rising in all sectors in response to increased regulatory requirements for audit quality and changes in audit scope and technical standards. Striving to ensure realistic fee levels is a vital prerequisite to achieving a more sustainable and stable local audit market.

Where individual audits currently attract scale fees that do not cover the basic costs of the audit work needed for a Code-compliant audit, we propose to implement a minimum fee level at the start of the next appointing period, for the audit of the 2023/24 accounts. Our independent research indicates a minimum fee level of £31,000 should apply, based on the 2020/21 scope of audit work, to any opted-in body (a police and crime commissioner and a chief constable constitute one body for this purpose).

We cannot anticipate scale fees for the next appointing period at this stage, because they will depend on the prices achieved in the procurement and any changes in audit requirements. Where any price increase means that the scale fee for a body does not reach the floor set by the minimum fee, the fee for that body would increase to reach the minimum level. It is likely, given current expectations, that the introduction of a minimum fee specifically would lead to an increase in fees for a relatively small number of local bodies. PSAA consults each year on the fee scale and will consult in 2023 on the 2023/24 fee scale.

Introducing a minimum fee is a one-off exercise designed to improve the accuracy of the fee scale for the next appointing period. Fee variations would continue to apply where the local circumstances of an audited body require additional audit work that was not expected at the time the fee scale was set.

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Standardised fee variations

Current local audit regulations allow PSAA to approve fee variation requests only at individual bodies, for additional audit requirements that become apparent during the course of an audit year. MHCLG has announced the intention to amend the regulations, following a consultation, to provide more flexibility. This would include the ability for PSAA to approve standardised fee variations to apply to all or groupings of bodies where it may be possible to determine additional fees for some new requirements nationally rather than for each opted-in body individually. Where it is possible to do this, it would have the effect of reducing the need for local fee variations.

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Approach to social value in the evaluation of tenders

We plan to retain our original proposal of a 5% weighting but to broaden the criteria by asking bidders to describe the additional social value they will deliver from the contract, which could include the creation of audit apprenticeships and meaningful training opportunities. Bidders will also be asked to describe how their delivery of social value will be measured and evidenced.

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Contract Management

The quality of the audit services received by opted-in bodies is very important to both the bodies themselves and to PSAA. Our intention is therefore to focus a significant majority of the quality assessment of tender submissions on resourcing, capacity and capability (including sector knowledge) and on client relationship management and communication. Correspondingly, we intend to apply a lesser weighting to those criteria that are regularly assessed by the regulator. We will seek the views of the regulator in developing the detail of our approach.

We will also review the contract terms used in 2017 ahead of the next procurement of audit services. In particular we will consider the potential to introduce enhanced performance management arrangements aligned to the greater emphasis on quality within the tender evaluation process. Any such revision must ensure continued compliance with the FRC’s Ethical Standard which prevents audit fees from being “calculated on a predetermined basis relating to the outcome or result of a transaction, or other event, or the result of the work performed“.

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Information and Communication

Following the success of the webinars held to support the recent consultation, PSAA will be running a series of webinars starting in October 2021. The webinars will provide eligible bodies with the opportunity to hear and ask questions about specific areas of scheme arrangements and PSAA’s work, and our progress to prepare for the second appointing period. Details of the webinar series can be found on our website.

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