Protecting the public purse

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NHS audited accounts true and fair but disclose significant financial stress

The timeliness and quality of NHS trusts’ financial reporting improved for 2013/14 according to the Commission’s report Auditing the Accounts 2013/14: NHS Bodies. In their first year, Clinical Commissioning Groups submitted their accounts on time but experienced some issues with quality. There is rising concern from the Commission’s appointed auditors for the financial resilience of NHS trusts, with a significant increase in the numbers of both qualified conclusions on value for money arrangements and statutory reports to the Secretary of State for Health.

Commission highlights fundamental implementation problems with proposed local audit regulations for 10,000 parish councils

The Audit Commission has today written to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to express its concerns about the complexity of the government’s new arrangements for parish council audit. Responding to DCLG’s consultation on local audit regulations, the Commission suggests they will place a much greater burden on parish councils and their clerks than the government intends. The Commission has been expressing its concerns in private for some time.

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Commission calls for improved quality and accuracy in grant and subsidy claims and returns as 78 per cent of housing benefit claims are qualified

78 per cent of councils’ claims to the grant-paying body for housing benefit subsidies for 2012/13 were challenged by the Audit Commission’s appointed auditors[1]. Auditors issued a qualification letter in 35 per cent (360) of the 1,023 claims and returns made by councils for 2012/13 in respect of seven schemes for grants or subsidies. 255 of the 360 (71 per cent) qualifications related to claims for housing and council tax benefit subsidy. In total, these seven schemes transfer £50.5 billion of public money from central to local government.

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The National Fraud Initiative finds £229 million of fraud, overpayment and error

In its final report as part of the Audit Commission, the National Fraud Initiative’s sophisticated data matching exercise has identified a further £229 million of fraud, overpayment or error in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, since it last reported in May 2012. The highest value categories identified in England continue to be pensions (£74 million), followed by council tax single person discount (£39 million) and then housing benefit (£33 million).

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Can local government’s £2.5 billion ‘surplus’ assets be put to better use?

In 2012/13, the local government estate was worth an estimated £169.8 billion (net book value [NBV]). Although the value of the estate has shrunk by nearly a third since 2004/05, the Audit Commission is highlighting that within it are around £2.5 billion of ‘surplus’ assets.

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