Magazine article Public Finance

Watchdog Watch

Magazine article Public Finance

Watchdog Watch

Article excerpt

Audit Commission

Local government and NHS bodies could save as much as £440m if Whitehall extends Audit Commission contracts for local auditor services to 2020, the watchdog has said.

The commission, which is due to be abolished next March, said it was reducing audit fees for local public bodies by £30m from 2015 to 2017, following retendering in March 2014 of the work done under older contracts.

This was in addition to the 40% cut in fees made by the commission in 2012 when its in-house audit work was outsourced.

Audited bodies would save £440m between 2012 and 2020 were the government to extend both the 2012 and 2014 contracts to the end of the decade, it calculated.

Audit Commission chair Jeremy Newman said: 'We have driven down prices for audit services, showing again that bulk procurement is the best way to maintain a competitive market and provide taxpayers with value for money.

'Fees should be preserved at this level for 2016/17 and we hope the government will take the opportunity we have secured, to lock in and extend the savings we have achieved up to 2020.'

Once the commission closes, a company formed by the Local Government Association will oversee the outsourced contracts.

In its final Interpreting the accounts report ahead of closure, the commission also found that nearly a quarter of councils (23%) have useable reserves that amount to less than 10% of their spending in 2012/13.

This rose to more than half (55%) of unitary local authorities.

Among other conclusions in the report, the commission found that only 9% of town halls had useable reserves greater than 40% of their spending, although 15% of district councils reached this level.

Office for Budget Responsibility

The Office for Budget Responsibility should be given an expanded remit to help hold the government to account on its policies to tackle poverty.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said that as current projections indicate one in three children and nearly one in four working-age adults will be living in poverty by 2020, independent monitoring of government performance on poverty reduction was needed.

This should include the OBR being required to monitor and forecast levels of poverty, while the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission should have its remit expanded to examine the government's record across all age groups.

In its UK without poverty report, the think-tank said attempts by successive governments to tackle poverty have not been good enough.

Proper strategies to address poverty in the UK were needed, the foundation's chief executive, Julia Unwin, stated.

'A comprehensive approach involving government, business, individuals, business, markets, civil society and communities is required,' she said. 'This must be backed up by full and independent scrutiny from the OBR and the SMCPC.'

Care Quality Commission

People living with dementia are being put at risk by unacceptable gaps in care quality, according to the Care Quality Commission.

After inspecting 129 care homes and 20 hospitals, the watchdog said that care assessments were patchy in almost a third (29%) of care homes and more than half (56%) of hospitals. Variable or poor care was identified in 34% of care homes and 42% of hospitals.

The CQC also said that there was poor sharing of information between health professionals and a lack of understanding of dementia care by staff involved. …

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