Magazine article Public Finance

Watchdog: Watch

Magazine article Public Finance

Watchdog: Watch

Article excerpt

WHAT'S GOING ON IN THE WORLD OF REGULATION AND INSPECTION

Audit Commission

Local audit contracts worth £25m a year are to be retendered in a bid to find further savings, the Audit Commission has announced.

The local authority and primary care trust contracts were outsourced to private firms in 2006 and 2007, before the watchdog's abolition was announced in 2010. They represent around 30% of the total audit work carried out at local bodies in England.

The Audit Commission's in-house work was outsourced last year. This is expected to bring in savings of £250m over five years and allow statutory audit fees to be cut by up to 40%.

In the light of these expected savings, the commission has decided to terminate the earlier contracts and retender them, giving the required two years' notice. The contracts are currently held by Deloitte, Grant Thornton, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers and PFK New arrangements will come into effect for the 2015/16 accounts.

Care Quality Commission

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced changes to the inspection and regulation of NHS services following the care failings at Mid Staffordshire trust, which has now been put into special administration.

Responding formally to the public inquiry, chaired by Robert Francis, Hunt said a new chief inspector of hospitals post would be created under the Care Quality Commission to detect problems in care. The chief inspector would introduce a performance rating for hospitals, modelled on the inspection regime used by Ofsted for schools. Measures would also be developed for individual hospital services, such as cancer treatment and maternity care.

The chief inspector would also assess hospital complaints procedures and act as the NHS's 'whistleblower-in-chief , raising concerns about care quality.

A parallel chief inspector of social care is also being established to ensure the same rigour is applied to care homes and to introduce performance ratings.

Further reforms will be made to the CQC to ensure it undertakes 'rigorous and challenging' reviews of both hospitals and care homes. A new statutory duty of candour will also be introduced, placing every organisation regulated by the CQC under an obligation to be honest and transparent when mistakes are made.

Hunt said these 'radical' measures were needed to change the health and social care system.

Accounts Commission

Scottish councils face a continuing spending squeeze in the coming financial year and it will be a 'tall order* for them to maintain services, the Accounts Commission has warned.

The annual examination of the local government sector, prepared for the commission by Audit Scotland, found the 32 councils spent £21bn providing local services in 2012/13.

However, cuts in grants from the Scottish Government will leave substantial funding gaps over the next three years, the watchdog said. Funding from Holyrood to councils is set to fall by 2 2% in real terms from April.

In response, authorities would now have to consider decisions, such as cuts to services, that had previously been ruled out, the auditors concluded. For example, councils were increasingly charging for some services, but they needed to weigh these decisions against the impact on service users.

Accounts Commission chair John Baillie said councils had coped well with the financial strains of recent years but the pressure was not abating.

'They need to continue to review existing services as well as identifying fresh ways of providing them - working with their partners, sharing skills and resources and keeping a close tab on budgets to ensure every pound is spent wisely.'

National Audit Office

The National Audit Office has urged the government to ensure that people without internet access do not lose out as public services are moved online.

Reporting on Whitehall's 'digital by default' strategy, the auditors found there was broad public support for the target of putting 82% of all central government transactions online. …

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