Hello! I’m Grace, a third year Public Sector Assurance Associate in the Cardiff office. I’ve been asked to outline what audit is like in Wales. Hopefully this will provide a brief overview of the Public Sector in Wales and how it differs from England.
In Wales we carry out work on behalf of the Wales Audit Office (WAO) and the Auditor General for Wales. The Auditor General is independent of government and is the statutory external auditor of most of the Welsh public bodies. As Wales has a devolved assembly government, public services are mostly funded by the Welsh Government. Part of the Auditor General’s role is to examine how public bodies manage and spend public money; achieving value in the delivery of public services. As this work cannot be delivered by the WAO alone, the work goes out to tender every few years, giving firms such as Grant Thornton the opportunity to bid for the contracts. The clients are then assigned to us based on the lot that we win in the tender, if we are successful. We currently audit three local authorities in Wales. Two are local to the Cardiff office with one located in Aberystwyth, resulting in the occasional away job at the sunny (sometimes!) seaside. We also currently audit some of the central government bodies in Wales. As of January 2016 we begin our new contract with the WAO which consists of two local authorities, an NHS Local Health Board and hundreds of limited assurance clients, in the form of town councils.
All 22 Welsh Local Authorities are unitary authorities, a single tier that is responsible for all local government functions within its area. As a result, we do not come across items such as the collection fund for council tax and non-domestic rates that are found in the two tier district system that operates in England. Discussions, led by the Welsh Government are currently taking place on whether the number of councils in Wales should be reduced once again, to take the number back as low as 8, through the merger of existing Councils. Proposals are currently being drawn up around how this is to be implemented, with an expected deadline of 2018.
The structure of the NHS in Wales differs from that in England. The NHS in England is the largest and oldest single-payer healthcare system in the world. Over the last few years it has taken steps to reform its funding and structure, designed to move healthcare away from the control of central government and allow healthcare providers to have a hands-on approach to commissioning services. It has also introduced a certain level of competition amongst English NHS organisations, especially within the recently formed Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). In contrast Wales has maintained a system which much more closely resembles the hierarchical system once seen in the NHS in England. NHS Wales (GIG Cymru) is the responsibility of the Welsh Government. The NHS structure in Wales is made up of seven Local Health Boards which plan, secure and deliver healthcare services within Wales, CCGs and trusts are not part of the Welsh NHS structure.
Another defining factor of audit in Wales is the increased amount of certification work that we complete during the year. We work to a threshold of £100,000 as set by Welsh Government and the Wales Audit Office, with any grant claim over this amount being subject to certification to provide assurance to the paying body that the expenditure is eligible. In addition to claims such as Housing Benefit and Teachers Pension, which are also completed over the border, we certify, on average, around 20-25 claims for each of the Welsh local authorities between the end of local government sign off and Christmas.
I hope this quick overview has clarified the differences that exist between the public sector structure and the way in which audits take place in Wales and England.