Public Sector – Big Five audit role questioned

National Audit Office head Sir John Bourn has voiced his concerns over the role the Big Five accountancy firms play in auditing public bodies for the government’s public finance watchdogs.

The Big Five are employed by the NAO and the Audit Commission to audit a relatively small percentage of public bodies – undertaking approximately 30% of the commission’s audit work and 20% of the NAO’s.

But in an interview with The Stakeholder magazine, the journal of the Public Management Foundation, Sir John said: ‘When they (the Big Five) do work for us, it is in carefully defined terms. In local government there has always been a divide between a professional audit and the District Audit service.’

From next year, all government departments and agencies will have to cope with balance sheets and accrual accounting. ‘We will be able to discharge that because, for the financial audit, I employ properly qualified people,’ Bourn added.

Once the government shifts to resource accounting, the NAO is expecting an increased workload, but one which it is ‘happy to meet’. Extensive training has also been undertaken to ensure that staff have the necessary skills to audit the new accounts.

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