Fewer than half of local councils, local police and local fire bodies’ 2019-20 audits were completed by the revised deadline of 30 November 2020, despite this having been pushed back to take account of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Audit Office has reported.
The watchdog warned that delays in completing audited accounts “can have significant implications for local accountability and the effective management of public money”.
In 2019-20, local councils, local police and local fire bodies in England spent nearly £100 billion delivering services.
The NAO said that high quality audit was essential for public trust in how taxpayers’ money is spent.
The watchdog said that since it reported on local authority governance and audit in 2019, despite efforts by the various organisations involved in the local audit system and by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, it could only conclude that the local audit system had worsened.
“The increase in late audit opinions, concerns about audit quality and doubts over audit firms’ willingness to continue to audit local authorities all highlight that the situation needs urgent attention,” the NAO added.
“This will require cooperation and collaboration by all bodies involved in the local audit system, together with clear leadership from government.”
The report, Timeliness of local auditor reporting on local government in England, 2020, can be viewed here.
The NAO has also published a data visualisation of local auditor reporting in England, which maps the areas where auditors have issued their auditor report and whether or not they are satisfied with the local public bodies’ financial statements and their arrangements to secure value for money. This has now been updated to include local auditor reports for NHS providers and commissioners for the 2019-20 financial year.