Local public bodies improve financial reporting and accountability

Published on Thursday, 13 December 2012 10:13
Posted by Vicki Mitchem

England's councils, fire and rescue authorities, police bodies, and other local government bodies, improved the quality and timeliness of their financial reporting in 2011/12.

This is a key finding of the Audit Commission's annual report on the stewardship of taxpayers' money by local public bodies, Auditing the Accounts 2011/12, published this week.

Of England's 472 principal bodies, 426 published their audited 2011/12 accounts by the 30 September 2012 deadline. No principal bodies to date have received a qualified audit opinion. Parish councils and other small bodies also improved the timeliness of their financial reporting.

The timely presentation of audited accounts with an unqualified audit opinion is the main way local bodies account for their use of public money. This reflects well on their financial management arrangements, and is indicative of good governance.

The Commission's Controller of Audit, Marcine Waterman, says:

'This improvement is quite an achievement given the continuing financial pressures on local public bodies. Our report highlights eleven authorities for reporting swiftly after the financial year end, with Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council top of the league having published audited accounts on 25 June, three months ahead of the deadline. Transport for London, one of the largest public bodies in the country, was only just behind Oldham, publishing on 20 July.

'But Birmingham City Council, the largest of England's councils, is one of only three principal bodies where the auditor has yet to issue an opinion on the accounts. The auditor issued section 11 statutory recommendations to Birmingham relating to the production of the accounts following the 2010/11 audit but the problems have continued in 2011/12.

'Only one Public Interest Report was issued to a principal body this year, Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council, relating to its highway and engineering services tendering process.

'Fourteen parish councils were identified in our last report as persistently failing to publish audited accounts, but 11 have since taken positive steps to address concerns. Only three have again failed to provide this basic level of accountability to local electors, and the auditors at one internal drainage board have not been able to issue an opinion for the last four years. Local people deserve better.'

The bodies covered in this report are required to approve and publish their accounts, with any audit opinion issued, by no later than 30 September.

Marcine Waterman adds:

'This annual audit process also gives essential assurance to the relevant government departments that funds distributed to local public bodies have been safeguarded and accounted for properly.

'The Draft Local Audit Bill currently makes no provision for the collection, collation and reporting of the results of the audit process as a national whole. Government should consider how it will gather and publish this information in future.'

Source: ©Audit Commission

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