Sections 107 to 111: Audit Commission
Sections 107 and 108: Auditors’ public interest reports
326.These sections make amendments to the Audit Commission Act 1998 regarding the publication, and handling by local authorities, of public interest reports prepared by appointed auditors. They provide for the auditor to have direct responsibility for publishing reports and making copies available more widely than just to the authority concerned. They also reduce the time authorities have to respond to these reports to ensure that the matters to which such reports refer are considered promptly by authorities.
Section 107: Auditors’ public interest reports: time allowed for consideration
327.This section amends the Audit Commission Act 1998 and reduces from four months to one month the time limit within which local authorities must consider, in a meeting open to the public, the contents of public interest reports prepared under section 8 of that Act by appointed auditors. The existing provision whereby an auditor may allow longer for consideration of such reports is to be retained.
Section 108: Auditors’ public interest reports: publicity
328.An auditor may, under section 8 of the Audit Commission Act 1998, make a report in the public interest on any matters coming to his notice during an audit which he considers should be brought to the attention of the public. A report may be made at the conclusion of an audit, or where the auditor considers it appropriate the matter may be made the subject of an immediate report. The auditor must give a copy of the report to the audited body forthwith if it is an immediate report, or otherwise within 14 days of the conclusion of the audit. Where an audited body receives an immediate report any member of the public may inspect the report, make copies or require the body to supply a copy of the report, or any part of it, on payment of a reasonable fee. The auditor may also notify any person that he has made a report and supply a copy or any part of it to any person he thinks fit.
329.This section amends the Audit Commission Act 1998 to provide that auditors should assume responsibility for publishing all public interest reports, notifying persons they think fit that such reports have been published and supplying copies to members of the public on request. From the time a report is sent to an audited body, auditors should ensure that members of the public may inspect reports and have copies made available. The obligation on auditors to provide copies will last for one year, thereafter it will fall to the Audit Commission.
Section 109: Registered social landlords
330.This section confers on the Audit Commission powers to inspect housing services provided by registered social landlords (RSLs). Inspection of RSLs' housing services in England is currently undertaken by the Housing Corporation as part of its regulatory role. In future, a single housing inspectorate within the Audit Commission will be able to inspect all social housing landlords in England whether local authorities or RSLs. Such a single inspectorate would be able to ensure that local authorities and RSLs provide the same standards of service for all tenants of social housing, drawing on the expertise that the Audit Commission has built up. The powers conferred on the Commission also apply to RSLs registered with the National Assembly for Wales: inspection of those RSLs is currently undertaken by the Assembly.
331.Subsection (1) will be commenced in relation to RSLs registered with the Housing Corporation by commencement order made by the Secretary of State and, in relation to RSLs registered with the National Assembly for Wales, by commencement order made by the Assembly.
332.Subsection (1) adds two new sections to the Audit Commission Act 1998. The new section 41A defines what may be inspected in RSLs, gives the Audit Commission powers to publish reports and powers of access to premises and information, and requires it to consult the Housing Corporation (or, in Wales, the National Assembly) on its programmes of inspection. The new section 41B makes provision for the Commission to charge RSLs for inspection. The Secretary of State (or, in relation to RSLs registered with the National Assembly for Wales, the Assembly) may make an order authorising the Commission to charge fees, but only after consultation. If so authorised, the Commission would have to consult on the level of fees. The amendment made by subsection (3) of the section requires the Commission to balance its income and expenditure on RSL inspection over time. The amendment made by subsection (4) of the section authorises the Secretary of State and Assembly to pay grant to the Commission.
Section 110: Financial Year
333.At present the Audit Commission’s financial year, determined by paragraph 11(5) of Schedule 1 to the Audit Commission Act 1998, runs from 1 November to 31 October. Section 110 amends paragraph 11(5) so that the Commission’s financial year will run from 1 April to 31 March.
334.Paragraph 65 of Schedule 7 to the Act changes certain other dates mentioned in Schedule 1 to the Audit Commission Act 1998. These amendments are consequential on the change to the Commission’s financial year.
Section 111: Delegation
335.Section 111 inserts a new paragraph 11A in Schedule 1 to the 1998 Act, which provides that any of the Audit Commission’s functions may be delegated to its committees and sub-committees and its officers and servants.