Audit office examines agency’s performance

Officials from the National Audit Office are investigating the Education Funding Agency to “consider whether it is prepared to meet future challenges”.

The investigation into the Department for Education’s (DfE) delivery agency for funding and compliance is underway with a report due in the autumn.

An audit office spokesperson said: “The agency distributed more than £50bn in 2012-13 to local education providers in England to fund education and training for learners aged 3 to 19 — 3 to 25 for those with learning difficulties.

“The agency is also responsible for the oversight of financial management and governance in open academies, and for major capital programmes in the education sector.

“Our report will examine the performance of the agency to date, and consider whether it is prepared to meet future challenges.”

The spokesperson declined to comment further.

The agency was formed on April 1 last year when the functions of two non-departmental public bodies, the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) and Partnerships for Schools, were brought together.

The agency was also investigated by the audit office last year, with a report published in November called Managing the expansion of the Academies Programme.

It said: “The YPLA and the agency have experienced difficulties meeting staffing requirements for administering funding and monitoring academies’ financial management and governance.”

The latest investigation comes as the audit office launched a report — Financial management in government — calling for more spending control within government departments.

Amyas Morse, head of the audit office, said: “Finance teams in departments and other public bodies have a vital role to play if the government is to deliver the planned public service reform.

“Finance managers are now being taken more seriously and playing a more central role in the efforts to provide sustainable services at lower cost.

“Savings are being made but progress in restructuring how services are being delivered is lagging.

“If the challenge of reforming the delivery of public services is to be met, then the Treasury and Finance Leadership group need to provide more effective impetus to strengthen financial management capability across government.”

An agency spokesperson declined to comment on the latest audit office investigation, which comes just over a year after a committee of MPs said DfE needed to keep a closer eye on its spending.

A report of the Public Accounts Committee concluded: “The department needs to do more work to clearly define how funding streams will be monitored, audit arrangements, and processes to support whistle-blowers.”

The DfE said at the time that steps had been taken to improve accountability.

“The DfE and agency challenge academies if they believe funds are being spent inappropriately,” said a spokesperson.