Assembly tightens checks on probity

October 15, 1999

The advent of the Welsh Assembly has ushered in a sweeping clampdown on lax accounting in higher and further education.

Colleges and universities face a twice-yearly progress review by the funding council. The National Assembly for Wales will receive an annual accountability "assurance statement" based in part on whistleblowers' complaints.

The initiatives follow a report to the assembly by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales on progress in ensuring probity. Although the report outlines a number of improvements in management and governance, it concludes that further improvements are possible and desirable.

The Welsh Office told HEFCW in January this year that the secretary of state "stressed the need for institutions to have in place proper arrangements to ensure adequate accountability and transparency for public money made available for higher education".

The Welsh Office said concern centred on reports by the National Audit Office and House of Commons Public Accounts Committee that accountability mechanisms were not in place or were ignored at some institutions in the United Kingdom. The reports called for formal governor training and improvements in the "management and accounting for income-generating activities".

The funding council was told: "The secretary of state asks the council to continue to review the need for guidance to the sector on matters of financial management and value for money; and to monitor on his behalf institutions' performance regarding governance and management."

The HEFCW said in its report that the sector had received comprehensive guidance on matters of governance, management, value for money and audit.

There has been improvement, HEFCW said, but two institutions still did not have proper governors' committees for appointments. Training and guidance initiatives were in place.

Although the funding council said it was keen to "respect the independence and autonomy of the institutions", it outlined details of an annual assurance statement to the Assembly for Wales.

This will be based on twice-yearly meetings between institutions and the funding council that "review institutional performance against a range of key indicators".

It will also draw together the funding councils' findings from its audit service reports, institutions' annual audit returns, the HEFCW's financial health monitoring activities, and from the activities of whistleblowers.

The report to the assembly will include "references to ... governance issues drawn to the attention of the council through correspondence, information returns, officer visits and as a result of complaints received from governors, staff, students or third parties."

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