Headlines: November 30th, 2007

The Government is being urged to create a ‘super audit agency’ by merging the Audit Commission and National Audit Office. The New Local Government Network, which is making the call, says that as councils are facing fewer targets and with the alignment of performance indicators, the time is right for there to be a single body for local government inspection.

The NLGN says the forthcoming departure of Sir John Bourn from the NAO would be an ideal opportunity to combine the agencies, which it says share similar goals and values. The NLGN report – ‘Expecting more from Inspectors?’- argues that a merger would not just cut red tape but also lead to cost efficiencies, which it estimates at 20 million pounds. It also highlights the fact that in Wales their work has already been combined in the Wales Audit Office.

The report’s author, Anthony Brand, believes bringing together the skills of the two bodies could help to raise the profile of accounting for public spending and the report says, “Public understanding of the NAO and Audit Commission is low and public scrutiny and understanding of their output is more limited still”. He finds that though the NAO focuses on government spending while the Commission audits local spending, much of their work overlaps.

Anthony Brand says, “Merging the two entities completely should lead to further increases in efficiency, best practice and operational effectiveness as well as a more holistic view of public services. In this way integrating the two bodies may lead to a more responsive and flexible inspection system.”

He believes the need for a more streamlined public auditing agency has arrived with the move towards a light touch method of regulation and the reduction in the number of targets for local government.