All local public bodies, including local authorities, police and fire bodies and local NHS bodies in England, are subject to audit from external auditors.
In 2017–18, auditors found that more than 1 in 5 local public bodies did not have proper arrangements in place to secure value for money for taxpayers. The numbers are worst for local NHS bodies such as clinical commissioning groups and hospital trusts, where 38% did not have proper arrangements.
Some local bodies are also not putting enough information in the public domain about their performance, including reports from their external auditors. Central departments need to make clear their expectations, not only for what is made publicly available, but also for making the information accessible to users and so helping citizens to hold local bodies to account. As a committee committed to transparency we conclude that there is a need for a step change in transparency by local bodies. This is particularly the case for many NHS bodies.
Local bodies should also be taking auditors’ concerns seriously and addressing them promptly, but there appear to be few consequences for those who do not. Even where local auditors use their additional reporting powers to highlight failings, this does not always lead to the bodies taking immediate action. While there is more for local bodies to do in acting on auditors’ findings, there is also a role for central government departments in holding local bodies to account for their performance and management. All central government departments state they are fully aware of issues being reported locally, but when significant concerns are highlighted at individual bodies, central departments are not doing enough to make sure that local bodies take prompt corrective action, or to share learning that could help other bodies avoid the same problems.
As more public bodies work together to deliver services the landscape for audit is becoming more complicated. Auditors can audit one public body but not the relationship between the two.
Published: 15 March 2019