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External Audit

From information recently made available by NALC, it appears that there will be no identifiable benefit for councils in choosing to opt out of the arrangements which are being made by Smaller Authorities’ Audit Appointments Limited (SAAA) for the external audit of parish and town councils from 2017. (see editions of the SPCA “Bulletin” dated 8th January and 28th January for further details),

Councils are reminded that they have until 31st March to confirm to NALC if they wish to opt out.  Conversely, for those that choose to ‘opt in’ to the sector led audit arrangements no action is required; they will simply become subject to the new arrangements by default.

The understanding is that ‘opted in’ councils with an annual turnover of less that £25,000 will not have an auditor appointed to them, as they will be exempt from audit, and that they will pay no fee; an auditor will only be appointed if there were electors’ queries about the council’s annual accounts.

Opted in councils which have an annual turnover of £25,000 or more will have an auditor appointed to them by SAAA, and it has been confirmed that the scale of fees for audit will be the same as those which currently apply under the existing contract with Grant Thornton.

If councils do choose to ‘go it alone’, and opt out, they will have to appoint their own external auditor by 31st December 2016, even if their annual turnover is less than £25,000. To do that, they will have to set up an auditor panel, following the guidance issued by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (see SPCA “Bulletin” dated 28th January). The auditor appointed will have to be eligible for appointment in accordance with the Audit and Accountability Act 2014.

The government is currently looking at licensing eligibility to conduct the audit of smaller bodies.  External audit work must be carried out in compliance with the National Audit Office’s Code of Audit Practice, and councils’ auditor panels will be expected to monitor compliance. Thus it will be seen that councils which choose to ‘opt out’ will incur a considerable additional administrative burden.

The Need for a Third Party Right of Appeal in the Planning Process

Readers will recall that the National Association of Local Councils has been promoting the case for Parish Councils to be given a ‘third party’ Right of Appeal in the planning process (see “Bulletin” dated 22nd October 2015) and that in parallel to this initiative a Staffordshire resident initiated a petition to parliament to address the same issue.

The petition had now garnered nearly 8,000 signatures with just a few weeks to go to the deadline of 19th April. If every parish councillor in Staffordshire were to sign the petition it would go a long way to achieving the 10,000 threshold required to prompt a formal government response! Have you supported the petition yet?

NALC Transparency Fund

It has now been confirmed that the multi-million pound ‘transparency fund’ to help small parish councils meet new audit and transparency rules will remain open to applications beyond 31st March 2016.

NALC successfully persuaded the Government to provide financial assistance to smaller sized parish councils to help them become web-enabled and comply with new rules on publishing information about their work and finances; this is an opportunity for councils that have not been able to comply to take advantage of DCLG funding.

The fund is currently open to applications from councils which have a turnover of less than £25,000 per annum to enable them to move to online publishing of financial and other information, ensuring that they are transparent and accountable to their local communities. Applications should be submitted to SPCA by no later than 14th October.

The new rules are contained in the Government’s Transparency Code for smaller authorities, to support the policy of placing more power into citizens’ hands to increase democratic accountability. The Code is mandatory and requires the online publication of key spending and governance information on the occasions specified in the Code.

To apply for funding please contact SPCA for a copy of the guidance notes and application form. Those requiring further guidance may find the FAQ document on the NALC website here of help

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