Lords scrutinises local audit bill

20 January 2014

The Local Audit and Accountability Bill returned to the House of Lords on Tuesday 21 January for consideration of Commons' amendments.

Members of the Lords discussed amendments around the appointment of local auditors, how the audit functions of the bill will relate to parish meetings, and clarification of the roles of auditors. They also debated the arrangements regarding the conduct and modernisation of parish polls.

Commons changes were agreed to without a vote. The The Local Audit and Accountability Bill received royal assent on 30 January 2014.

The Local Audit and Accountability Bill report stage day three: Wednesday 24 July

Members of the Lords began by discussing an amendment that would allow auditors to access documents from significant private contractors that a local authority has used. They argued this would bring greater transparency to relationships between authorities and contractors. The amendment went to a vote, with 172 for and 191 against, so the change was not made.

Lords went on to discuss freedom of information (FOI), and an amendment was put forward proposing that audit information should be covered under the Freedom of Information Act. This amendment went to a vote, with 172 for and 192 against, so the change was not made.

The bill now goes to the House of Commons.

The Local Audit and Accountability Bill report stage day two: Wednesday 17 July

Members of the Lords began by discussing requirements to publish statutory notices in newspapers, looking at whether it should be up to the local authority to decide where they think the most appropriate place to publish them should be.

They also discussed parish polls, and whether rules and regulations around them could be updated as part of the bill.

Third reading - a final chance to amend the bill - is scheduled for 24 July.

The Local Audit and Accountability Bill report stage day one: Monday 15 July

Members of the Lords considered several suggested changes relating to the abolition of the existing audit scheme. An amendment calling for the government to provide reassurances on how the new audit regime will be coordinated, before the existing Audit Commission closes, went to a vote. The result was 170 for and 205 against, so the change was not made.

Further discussions centred on the appointment of local auditors and how the independence of audit panels can be guaranteed.

A second day of report stage is scheduled to take place on 17 July. 

Local Audit and Accountability Bill grand committee stage

17 June (day one):

19 June (day two):

24 June (day three):

26 June (day four):

The Local Audit and Accountability Bill spent four days in grand committee in the Moses Room. The process is almost identical to committee stage taken in the chamber as members carry out a detailed line by line examination of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of a bill.

Starting from the front of the bill, members work through to the end. Any member of the Lords can take part. The single exception is that votes do not take place in a grand committee. Any issues requiring a vote must be resolved when the bill returns to the main chamber for report stage.

Local Audit and Accountability Bill second reading: Wednesday 22 May

The debate focused on how the bill could strengthen local democracy and transparency and save money. Lords discussed plans to replace the current Audit Commission with a new framework for local audit, under the new legislation auditors would be appointed by local authorities following the advice of an independent auditor panel.

Broad support came from across the chamber, however, concerns were raised about whether the bill would affect the quality and independence of the audit process and safeguard whistleblowers. Questions were also raised about the cost of the new system, and what gaps would arise from the demise of the Audit Commission.

Local Audit and Accountability Bill summary

The bill seeks to:

  • look at the accounts of local and certain other public authorities and the way they are audited
  • make provision about the appointment, functions and regulation of local auditors
  • look at laws around data matching
  • provide guidance around examinations by the Comptroller and Auditor-General relating to English local and other public authorities
  • make provision about the publication of information by smaller authorities
  • provide directions on how to comply with codes of practice on local authority publicity
  • define laws about council tax referendums

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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