Guidance on selecting and evaluating your auditor from the NASBM
The National Association of School Business Managers (NASBM) together with the Education Funding Agency (EFA) maintains a "best practice" library which aims to share good practice across the academy sector and provide practical assistance for those in need of support. The library comprises factsheets, roles and responsibilities, financial management and procedures, managing risk, and policy templates.
One such factsheet is "Choosing an auditor for your school".
As well as outlining the role of an external auditor, it explains how to find, select and evaluate an auditor. The NASBM suggest finding an auditor through a combination of word of mouth recommendations from other SBMs, internet research, checking the Register of Statutory Auditors, or using the services of a purchasing consortium.
As an academy auditor, we would endorse the recommendation route. The recommendation of another SBM who has actually dealt with the auditor in question and speaks from practical experience of the working relationship is invaluable.
Once you have a shortlist of possibles, the NASBM suggest drawing up a list of discussion points. What is it that your academy in particular needs from your auditor? Are you a single or multi academy trust, do you need a local or a national firm, do you need management accounts, payroll, accounts preparation, or tax services in addition to the audit? Again, as auditors we would add consideration of a trading subsidiary and the VAT implications of such a decision to that list, particularly as academies seek to maximise income from sources other than the EFA.
Having asked your shortlist to tender for your audit - you will need to compare their services, checking experience, reputation in the academy sector, capacity, level of support offered, clarity of fees, staff actually working with you, and the practicalities of their audit plan.
Interestingly the guidance doesn't mention the one thing we would say is vital. Given that your shortlist are all qualified, experienced auditors, and having met the people who would actually be working with you on a day to day basis - did you get along with them? Are they your type of people? Will you make a good team together? It’s intangible, but essential.
Lastly the NASBM guidance suggest that you regularly evaluate your auditors - did the process go smoothly, was the communication clear, did it represent good value for money? Ideally evaluating the auditors immediately after the conclusion of the audit is a good idea, forming an opinion while the experience is fresh in your memory and giving you time to action a change should you decide one is necessary.
Speaking as a local firm of academy auditors we are always happy to meet with SBMs. Our current academy clients are willing advocates of our service and our team and we would appreciate the opportunity to meet you, without any obligation on your part. If you would like to speak with us, please do contact Wayne Thomas 01332 365855 firstname.lastname@example.org.