High quality independent audit is one of the cornerstones of public accountability. It gives assurance that taxpayers’ money has been well managed and properly expended. It helps to inspire trust and confidence in the organisations and people responsible for managing public money.
Public Sector Audit Appointments Limited (PSAA) is an independent company limited by guarantee incorporated by the Local Government Association (LGA) in August 2014. It has a Board of non-executive directors supported by a Chief Executive and a team of staff who have significant experience and skills in managing contracts for public audit services. More information about the PSAA Board and Executive team can be found at who we are.
In July 2016, the Secretary of State specified PSAA as an appointing person for principal local government and police bodies for audits from 2018/19, under the provisions of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 (the Act) and the Local Audit (Appointing Person) Regulations 2015 (the Regulations). Acting in accordance with this role PSAA is responsible for appointing an auditor and setting scales of fees for relevant principal authorities that have chosen to opt into its national scheme, overseeing issues of auditor independence and monitoring compliance by the auditor with the contracts we enter into with the audit firms.
During the next few months all eligible bodies will need to make important decisions about their external audit arrangements for the period commencing from the financial year 2023/24.
In relation to appointing auditors, local bodies have options to arrange their own procurement and make the appointment themselves or in conjunction with other bodies, or they can join and take advantage of the national collective scheme managed by PSAA.
Events since 2018 have resulted in an audit industry that is under enormous pressure and the local audit system is experiencing its share of the strain and unavoidable instability as impacts cascade down to the frontline of individual audits.
We believe that PSAA’s national scheme offers the best option for local bodies to secure the appointment of appropriately qualified auditors in the current challenging market conditions. The Local Government Association and MHCLG have expressed similar views.
 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.
Background to the procurement
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 the option to extend one or more existing contracts for 2023/24 and also 2024/25 in order to secure or supplement capacity.
PSAA is intent on having a successful procurement and being able to award contract opportunities to successful bidders at the conclusion of the process.
However, PSAA explicitly reserves the right to exercise its discretion to abandon the procurement for one or more lots including all of the lots where PSAA, at its sole discretion, considers the procurement has not sufficiently delivered to a suitable level one or more of the stated procurement strategy objectives, for example where it has not delivered sufficient value for opted-in bodies.
The factors (and the interaction of factors) that PSAA will take into account amongst its considerations of whether to award a lot will include (but not be limited to):
- the impact on overall sustainability of the local government audit provider market;
- the relative value for money for opted-in bodies of provisional winning tenders across all lots, which will be informed by the relative quality offered and the degree to which the bid rates are greater or less than the bid rates of other provisional lot winners; and
- any government, system leader, regulatory or other policy announcements or clarifications relevant to the exercise of PSAA’s functions.
MHCLG’s Spring statement proposed changes to the current arrangements. At the time of writing, the response to the formal consultation on the proposals in the Spring statement is awaited. Following the publication of its response to the consultation on changes to the Local Audit (Appointing Person) Regulations 2015, in Autumn 2021 the government is in the final stage of introducing secondary legislation to provide the appointing person with greater flexibility to allow a fee scale to be set during the audit year. These changes enable approved recurring fee variations to be baked into the scale fee at an earlier date so the scale fees are more accurate and the volume of fee variations is reduced.
PSAA has set the length of the next compulsory appointing period to cover the audits of the five consecutive financial years commencing 1 April 2023.
PSAA needs to enter into new contracts with audit firms in order to make auditor appointments to opted-in bodies by 31 December 2022, as required by the Appointing Person Regulations. This procurement strategy sets out our current plans for the basis on which the procurement of audit services will be carried out.
Objectives of the procurement
Our primary aim is to secure the delivery of an audit service of the required quality for every opted-in body at a realistic market price and to support the drive towards a long term competitive and more sustainable market for local public audit services.
The objectives of the procurement are to maximise value for local public bodies by:
- securing the delivery of independent audit services of the required quality;
- awarding long term contracts to a sufficient number of firms to enable the deployment of an appropriately qualified auditing team to every participating body;
- encouraging existing suppliers to remain active participants in local audit and creating opportunities for new suppliers to enter the market;
- encouraging audit suppliers to submit prices which are realistic in the context of the current market;
- enabling auditor appointments which facilitate the efficient use of audit resources;
- supporting and contributing to the efforts of audited bodies and auditors to improve the timeliness of audit opinion delivery; and
- establishing arrangements that are able to evolve in response to changes to the local audit framework.
It is necessary to enter into contracts with a number of audit suppliers to provide sufficient capacity for all of the audits required, enable PSAA to manage auditor independence issues and, if possible, grow the number of active suppliers in the local audit market.
Scope of the procurement
The procurement will cover the audits of the accounts of all eligible bodies that opt into the appointing person scheme. Eligible bodies include local authorities, combined authorities, police and crime commissioners including PFCCs, chief constables, fire and rescue authorities, waste authorities, passenger transport executives and national park authorities.
There are currently 476 eligible bodies that will receive invitations to opt into the appointing person arrangements during September 2021. This number may reduce slightly from 1 April 2023 given the planned reorganisation in the counties of Cumbria, North Yorkshire, and Somerset. The closing date for acceptance of the opt-in invitation is 11 March 2022. We expect to receive acceptances from eligible bodies throughout the opt-in period and will maintain and publish an up to date record of bodies joining the scheme on the PSAA website.
PSAA has allowed a considerably longer period during which an eligible body can opt in compared to the statutory minimum period of eight weeks. It is hoped this will enable eligible bodies to meet the requirement under the regulations to make the decision to opt in at a full council meeting. (As corporations sole, the full council requirement does not apply to police and crime commissioners and police, fire and crime commissioners).
In order to maximise the potential economies of scale for eligible bodies as a result of entering into large contracts with firms, and to manage any auditor independence issues, PSAA will seek to provide as much clarity and certainty as possible concerning the volume and nature of audits it is able to offer to firms.
Evolution of this strategy
This strategy has been developed based on our knowledge and experience of previous procurements for audit and related services, including the lessons learned from our 2017 procurement and the research we have commissioned since that time. Importantly it has been shaped by the feedback received to the market engagement exercise and consultation with eligible bodies, which we undertook in June 2021. A summary of the response to PSAA’s consultation and market engagement has been published.
PSAA has produced a risk allocation matrix (included as an appendix) to inform the development of its commercial model and pricing approach as described in this strategy. It sets outs PSAA’s assessment of the risks that each party is required to bear so provision can be made to mitigate and manage these risks in the most effective and economical manner.
This revised procurement strategy was agreed by the PSAA Board on 31 January 2022. The few amendments made reflect recent developments in our proposed approach and in the local audit world. (It supersedes the version agreed on 15 September 2021, which was shared and discussed with members of the Liaison Committee chaired by MHCLG and involving representatives of FRC, NAO, CIPFA, ICAEW and the LGA). In a number of areas feedback has helped us to evolve our thinking on the procurement characteristics outlined in the June 2021 draft prospectus and market engagement documents.
Two market briefings were held – in November 2021 and January 2022 – to explain and answer questions about our procurement strategy.
We expect to publish the contract notice on 7 February 2022. From that point forward, all engagement in respect of the procurement will be conducted in accordance with the arrangements described in the procurement documentation.
The significant work to reform audit in the wake of the four government reviews (Kingman’s review of the FRC; the Competition and Markets Authority review of the audit market; Sir Donald Brydon’s review of the quality and effectiveness of audit; and Sir Tony Redmond’s review of local authority financial reporting and external audit), 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. Alongside changes to the general and local audit framework, the Government is reviewing the public sector procurement regulations, following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.