Is the end nigh? Nay
Public-Sector Finance Paul Gosling finds the District Audit alive and kicking - and improving
Wednesday 13 December 1995
Jim Butler, author of the report, said that district auditors should be chosen on merit, and told the Independent that he favoured competitive tendering being used for all contracts. With District Audit winning only one out of eight contracts in the initial tranche of market testing, the writing seemed to be on the wall for District Audit, with some private firms looking forward to picking up more public work.
But it looks as though District Audit will be around for a long time to come, after all. While the commission has welcomed the Butler review and accepted its recommendations, this has not extended market testing beyond the fairly limited scope that had been embarked on, which will alter the 70/30 public/private split only gradually.
"We have standard targets of 1 to 2 per cent market testing of contracts per year," says an Audit Commission spokesman. "We must get the audited bodies to agree to this, we can't just impose this on them, and there are strict eligibility criteria."
The commission is just releasing the specifications for the next batch of market testing, for agreement with the audited bodies, in this case five NHS trusts in Wales. That contract will be awarded in April next year, for commencement a year later. A similar process for the London boroughs and the metropolitan councils will begin in December 1996.
David Prince, chief executive of District Audit, says: "It is a matter for the commission to decide how far it goes with market testing, but it is not without cost. You can get most of the benefits of the programme without increasing overheads." The lessons learnt from a restricted market testing programme can be passed on to all clients.
The view that there is no need to introduce competitive tendering for all audit contracts receives surprisingly little criticism from the private firms. Price Waterhouse's spokesman says: "We are comfortable with the way things are." He adds that historically they won a large amount of the 30 per cent of work not carried out by District Audit.
Mr Prince stresses that District Audit is in a good position to cope with private-sector competition, having learnt a lot from the initial market testing exercise. He believes the greatest weakness displayed was DA's poor presentation skills, which have since been strengthened.
The Butler review, though, focused on other weaknesses, pointing out that the high-quality Audit Commission national value-for-money reports were not being translated effectively into local situations, blaming a weakness in relations between the commission and local district auditors, whether from DA or private firms.
Mr Prince believes that these problems had already been recognised, and were being resolved. "We are putting a greater emphasis on specialists and changing our skills mix, bringing people in on secondment," he says.
"We use a lot of people who are not auditors, we have more than 200 people who have non-financial disciplines from the public and private sectors, such as teachers, health managers and doctors, and we are making increasing use of them. Auditors are then that much closer to the bodies they are auditing. We want to tailor studies to the needs of the organisation we are auditing.
"We have been working on our own change programme for just over a year, since we became an agency. The Butler report reinforces the direction we are already going forward in."
Mr Prince points to DA's local value-for-money reports that have recently led to big savings. The London fraud initiative saved pounds 2m in just one borough, by matching names on computer databases across the city, finding people who were making multiple student grant and housing benefit applications.
Another study found some highways authorities could save pounds 50,000 annually by replacing bulbs in street lights half as often or, in other instances, by using a different type. And a DA investigation into computer security found that hospitals and local authorities were vulnerable to outside hackers as well as unauthorised access within organisations, and gave clients a free computer programme to create an audit trail of illicit data access.
"At the moment market testing affects a relatively small amount of our work," says Mr Prince. "We have been concentrating on developing new products as we want to give all our audited bodies the benefits of our thinking."
- 1 Crystal meth addict 'gouged out his eyes and ate them' while high on drug, Australian MP claims
- 2 Saudi Arabia 'seeking to head United Nations Human Rights Council'
- 3 Irish people are travelling home from all over the world so they can vote to legalise gay marriage
- 4 Witch doctor arrested after forcing newborn baby to walk in Indian village
- 5 Arsenal fan asks the Queen for tickets to the FA Cup final - gets a reply from Buckingham Palace
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
Report finds that Britain's wages are the most unequal in Europe
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland
iJobs Money & Business
£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...
£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...
£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...
£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...
Day In a Page
On the market for the first time in more than 50 years, this six-bedroom home is a project with vast potential - spread over three floors of living space.
This five-bedroom home comes with a range of outbuildings including a large barn which could be converted into a self-contained granny-flat or rental.
Surrounded by rolling countryside, this four-bedroom barn conversion comes with a self-contained, one-bedroom annexe that could serve as an office or a holiday let.
Located near Harrogate town centre, this five-bedroom Victorian terrace is arranged over three storeys while a current study serves as an optional sixth bedroom.
A ground-floor flat in a country house, located a mile from Sway; this two-bedroom home would make an ideal weekend retreat on the edge of the New Forest.
On a popular residential lane in Caterham on the Hill, this four-bedroom family home offers a secluded garden and a convenient location for local schools and public transport.
Just a short walk from Westerham green, this three-bedroom cottage has a light kitchen with exposed brickwork and double doors that lead to a south-facing garden.
In a prime spot opposite the River Thames, this one-bedroom flat has an 18sq ft reception room with glass doors that open out to a private terrace.
Set in the hills above Llanwrda Village, west Wales, this 18th-century three-bedroom farmhouse has holiday-let potential from a separate barn conversion and annexe.
This charming end-of-terrace townhouse is arranged over three floors, with two double bedrooms and a private courtyard garden located at the rear of the property.
This four-bedroom Edwardian home offers a combination of original features and contemporary design after a renovation by the current owners.
Located in the University area, this semi-detached five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors - there's even a rear garden and off-road parking too.
Only a few minutes' drive from the charming town of Marlow, this two-bedroom home sits on the private riverside estate of Harleyford.
This detached four-bedroom home in Middleyard is arranged over two floors, with features that include a wood-burning stove and bespoke oak staircase.
In a row of eight detached Georgian residences, this five-bedroom home offers views of The Sound, Mount Edgcumbe and Cornwall from its impressive veranda and full-length balcony.
If you love cooking for friends this two-bedroom flat - complete with views of the iconic Battersea Power Station and an open-plan kitchen/dining area - will go down a treat.
Located above Grasmere village, this five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors and offers countryside views across Grasmere Lake towards Silver Howe.
Surrounded by the Western fells, this five-bedroom Georgian home retains many original features including panel-plastered ceilings, sash windows and fireplaces.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B, subject to change of use permissions.
A former period coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
This four-bedroom home has exposed brick chimneys and a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining - the doors open to the patio and garden.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with grounds that span to approximately 2.5 acres, as well as two large patio areas and a double garage.
This four-bedroom cottage is a Grade II-listed town house, well-located for the thriving market town of Nailsworth.
A four-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a stunning period property in North Yorkshire, with two kitchens and a large south-west facing garden.
This high-spec two-bedroom home is part of a smart collection of new flats at Beaufort Park and has a large decked balcony that's perfect for summer drinks.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Overlooking a golf course, this six-bedroom Edwardian detached home spans four storeys and retains many period features including the original, operational servants' bells...
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
In a Grade II-listed manor just outside of Bath, this three-bedroom home is arranged on two floors with a skylight in a vaulted roof line.
Open the living room's bi-fold wooden doors to reveal a retro-style kitchen, and a conservatory leading to a paved garden at this three-bedroom home.
A Grade II-listed, four-bedroom home, in a charming Somerset village, with a two-storey studio that could be converted into a holiday cottage
A modern four-bedroom Victorian home, within walking distance to the high street
A luxury apartment in the Gothic mansion of Wyfold Court in Kingwood, offers six bedrooms spread over three floors and a turret
This school conversion, near Stockwell Tube, oozes New York loft style. The one-bedroom flat features double height ceilings and exposed brick work
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof