Audit, Accountability, and Government

Audit, Accountability, and Government

Audit, Accountability, and Government

Audit, Accountability, and Government


This book explains, from a public law perspective, the constitutional purpose and significance of audit, a topic which has been largely neglected, and casts light on important aspects of accountability in the British system of government. The book suggests that audit, as an accountability mechanism, has been underplayed to date and that greater significance should be attributed to its role in delivering both democratic accountability and, within government, managerial accountability. The focus of the book is central government audit in Britain, but the constitutional role of audit at a local level and at a European Union level is also considered. The book begins by explaining, in a non -technical way, the basic concepts of accounting and audit, and sets audit in its historical context. The different types of audit and the institutional framework within which audit is conducted are then analysed. Any shortcomings in each area are identified and suggestions for change are explored. The constitutional significance of the changes to the role of audit that are currently taking place are analysed, as are the effects of developments, such as the creation of agencies, contracting-out, and more recently, resource accounting and budgeting and devolution, on the constitutional role of audit. The fundamental principles, both institutional and substantive, of public sector audit are identified and new tasks that audit could fulfil at central government level are proposed.


This book is the culmination of four years of research on the constitutional role of public sector audit. The book, and the underlying research on which the book is based, could not have been completed without the help of various people and bodies. The original research team comprised Professor Ian Harden, Fidelma White and Katy Donnelly, as research assistant. When Katy took up a research post with the Constitution Unit in 1995, she was replaced by Kathryn Hollingsworth. The research has benefited from a number of funding sources, namely Sheffield University Research Fund, the Law Department at Sheffield University, and, from September 1995 to March 1998, the Leverhulme Trust (grant reference F/118/AD).

The research was based, to a large extent, on interviews with members and officials from the relevant audit institutions and other interested bodies. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who gave freely of their time to agree to be interviewed, and to read and comment on draft chapters. Their input was invaluable.

The focus of the book is on the constitutional role of British central government audit, thereby excluding Northern Ireland. Chapter 7 concerns the Audit Commission's audit role in England and Wales. Local government audit in Scotland is also not considered in this book. These exclusions were based on practical issues such as the limitations of time and funding. There is an obvious need for further research in these areas, particularly as devolution takes shape.

The research has been disseminated in various forms to date. In particular, Chapters 7 and 8 of this book derive from earlier publications in Legal Studies and European Public Law respectively.

We are grateful to Lord Nolan for agreeing to write the Foreword to the book. We are indebted to our publishers and our indexer for their help in many ways. And finally, we must pay a special thanks to Ian Harden who diligently read numerous drafts of chapters and whose helpful criticisms and suggestions were invaluable in producing this book. The shortcomings, oversights and errors in the work are the authors alone.

The book purports to be up-to-date as of 30th June 1998.

Fidelma White & Kathryn Hollingsworth

August 1998 . . .

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