If you work in the finance team of a multi-academy trust, you might not be keen to hear the word “audit” again for a while.
The annual autumn inspection of the MAT’s finances can be stressful for all involved, even if it goes well.
But there are some follow-up actions that a trust is legally required to take after the auditors have departed. It makes sense to combine those with a wider review to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible next time.
Assessing an auditor’s effectiveness for MATs
The law requires a MAT’s audit and risk committee to carry out an evidence-based assessment of an auditor’s quality and effectiveness. This will inform any decisions to reappoint or dismiss an auditor or to re-tender the opportunity.
The committee – which can seek input from the staff who went through the audit and can conduct a survey – should assess:
- the effectiveness of the process
- the auditor’s understanding and the effectiveness of their team
- the costs.
There are circumstances in which an MAT can part company with its auditor, which are:
- Re-tendering: Trusts are expected to re-tender their audit contract at least once every five years.
- Resignation: An auditor has the right to resign by giving written notice to the academy trust. The required period of notice may have been laid down at the time of the appointment.
- Removal: It doesn’t often happen, but an auditor can be removed after a majority vote of members at a general meeting of the company running the trust. Members must provide reasons for their decision to the MAT’s board of trustees and the auditor has rights under the Companies Act.
If the MAT does find itself seeking a new auditor, the main methods of finding one suggested by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) are:
- word of mouth;
- the Register of Statutory Auditors; and
- procurement through the Department for Education framework.
Reviewing how your MAT audit went
It’s a good idea, while audit is fresh in everyone’s memory, to review what went well and not so well.
Were there records that took a long time to find? Or questions you struggled to answer?
Did you have the staff on hand who could deal with queries?
Did the input from non-finance staff (primarily HR) go well and did you have the right access to people and information?
When to start preparing for the next audit
MATs are required to have internal scrutiny in place, ensuring compliance with financial and non-financial controls. The more rigorously that scrutiny is conducted, the better equipped the MAT is likely to be for audit.
It’s important to keep information in audit-ready fashion all year round. If much of the work is still done on paper, it is necessary to ensure documents are easily retrievable. Good habits of record-keeping and document storage will pay off when the auditors visit.
The documentation supporting the awarding of contracts, or other key decisions, can cause a particular problem if it’s not to hand when auditors need it. So can non-financial records such as communication to staff about salaries.
If you don’t have software that allows you to link budget items with supporting documents, you’ll need an efficient way of cross-referencing those records.
A checklist for MATs at audit time
Audit will go a lot more smoothly if you’re working from a checklist which you consult in good time.
Auditors will often provide such a list, but the government publishes its own detailed checklist. That document is intended as a tool to help trusts that don’t already have one, rather than as an edict from Whitehall.
This document, the Academy Trust External Audit Preparation Checklist, outlines some 79 pieces of information auditors may need to see, under these headings:
- Financial statements
- Governance statement
- Statement of financial activities
- Balance sheet – fixed assets
- Balance sheet – current assets
- Balance sheet – liabilities
- Balance sheet – reserves
- Statement of cash flows
- Other notes to the accounts
- Key documents (these include such items as the articles of association, funding agreement and corporate risk register)
- Other information (such as the register of gifts and hospitality, copies of internal audit reports and correspondence with ESFA).
The auditors’ visit
A good auditor appreciates that their work can interfere with the running of the school and will try to minimise that disruption as much as possible.
As soon as the date of the audit is confirmed, it’s important to book out plenty of time in your diary and make sure key staff will be at work, with plenty of space in their own schedules. That includes the non-finance staff, particularly in HR, who might be needed.
For MATs whose academies are on multiple sites, it may be necessary to move records to the right place.
Being transparent with auditors
Audit can be a strain for everyone concerned. In the thick of the process, it’s easy to forget the laudable purpose behind it – to see that public money is being properly spent to ensure the best possible education.
Find out more about iplicit
iplicit’s cloud accounting software can make the audit process a great deal easier.
It ensures the books are complete and ready for audit, with any supporting documentation attached to the relevant line item in the accounts. Auditors can be given read-only access to inspect the system for themselves.
All this is in addition to the time and cost savings which iplicit enables throughout the year. The software automates many of the most laborious tasks of a finance team and produces consolidated reports the way you need them, populated with real-time data. As trusts expand, extra academies can be added in minutes at no extra cost.
Find out more about iplicit for education or get in touch for a demonstration.
The government’s Academy Trust Audit Preparation Checklist.
Official guidance on Internal Scrutiny in Academy Trusts.
The government’s Academies Accounts Direction 2022-23.
The section of the Academy Trust Handbook dealing with annual accounts and audit.
Framework and Guide for External Auditors 2022-23.