Magazine article Public Finance

What's Going on in Audit and Regulation

Magazine article Public Finance

What's Going on in Audit and Regulation

Article excerpt

OFSTED

? The accountability regime for schools is "confused and inconsistent", according to Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw, who warned it could undermine improvements in the education system.

Addressing the CentreForum thinktank, Wilshaw said "a patchwork of accountability" had arisen since free schools and academies were introduced.

It is unclear how regional schools commissioners, who oversee academies, will fit with other accountability bodies.

"Problems, inevitably, are shuffled between various agencies. This isn't fair on parents and it certainly isn't fair on schools," Wilshaw said.

"A symptom of that confusion has been a more than doubling of complaints to Ofsted about schools in the last three years. The danger is that only those able to navigate this accountability maze will have their concerns addressed."

Meanwhile, Ofsted is due to have started joint inspections of services for vulnerable children with the Care Quality Commission, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and HM Inspectorate of Probation.

Ofsted's national director for social care, Eleanor Schooling, said the responsibility of safeguarding cannot rest with one agency, so these inspections are needed to ensure "every agency is doing its part".

NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE

? Outsourcing Department for Work and Pensions health and disability assessments has not provided value for money, with the costs of tests increasing by 65%, the National Audit Office has found.

Examining the latest contract to provide employment and support allowance eligibility assessments, the NAO found costs are rising and providers struggling to meet expected performance standards.

Atos ended its ESA assessment contract in 2014. Under a new deal with the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments, signed in March 2015, each test costs more.

Tests are used for deciding if people are eligible for benefits and to help those on long-term sick leave back into work.

Under the new deal, the DWP expects to pay £595m over three years for 3.4 million assessments. This works out at around £190 per assessment, compared with £115 under the Atos deal. Costs have risen in part due to a higher proportion of face-toface assessments and rising salaries for healthcare professionals, the Contracted-Out Health and Disability Assessments report found.

Separately, the NAO noted some councils have ended emergency welfare provision.

The watchdog said councils had "acted cautiously" in designing support schemes after national crisis loans and community care grants were scrapped in 2013.

Since then, overall spending on discretionary support to help people meet urgent needs for food, heating, clothing and essential household items has fallen from £177m spent by the DWP in 2012/13 to £141m in 2013/14 and 2014/15.

"The consequences of creating this gap in provision are not understood, in terms of either impact on vulnerable people or creating potentially costly additional care or medical needs in the longer term," auditor general Amyas Morse warned. …

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