Attendees at our March Academies Update Conference will have taken note of two 'soon-to-be-confirmed' financial reporting requirements for academies.
The first of these, the 2013/14 Budget Forecast for all academies is now due to be published on 4 April.
The second, the March 2012/13 Accounts Return, has now been published. However, as noted below, final important details are 'still-to-be-confirmed' (hopefully soon). This blog answers some initial questions that academies may have about the return.
Who has to complete the March 2012/13 Accounts Return?
All academies open before 31 March 2013 that did not prepare and file accounts to August 2012 will need to complete the return. This includes new academies within existing multi-academy trusts. The submission date for the March return is 28 June 2013.
What is this Accounts Return?
The Department for Education and Education Funding Agency are required to present their own financial statements before Parliament. Their financial statements effectively consolidate academy data.
Academies that filed August 2012 accounts had to prepare an Accounts Return that DfE and EFA could use in their consolidated figures. The EFA and DfE need data from the academies that did not have to file accounts to August 2012 to complete the picture. This is what the March 2013 Accounts Return is for.
Why 31 March?
An academy normally has an August year end. Government reporting runs to a March year end. As such, the EfA and DfE need numbers up to March for new academies.
How long is the return?
It's pretty long. Think of the numbers contained within a set of accounts prepared in line with last year's Accounts Direction and add in some government reporting requirements for good measure. Put it into a spreadsheet and there's your Accounts Return. This is not an inconsiderable task for an academy that may lack the internal resource to do this.
Does the return need to be 'audited'?
We don't know yet. The guidance accompanying the return leaves the option open. Do not just read the EFA website page!
The August 2012 Accounts Return required an assurance report that primarily confirmed consistency of the return to the already audited annual accounts. The EFA are yet to confirm whether the March Accounts Return is to require a report signed by an auditor.
The most recent Whole of Government Accounts had a qualified audit report that specifically referred to the inability to obtain any assurance over unaudited academy data.
The EFA and DfE are in a difficult position here. Do they include unaudited March data for 1000+ academies within their own returns? Do they ask an auditor to provide assurance on consistency of a return to underlying unaudited data? Do they try to get an auditor to provide some form of assurance on the underlying data and its inclusion within the return?
If they choose the latter of these options, the EFA needs to show consideration of their own need for assurance combined with the practicalities of providing this assurance. Ethics; costs; timing; scope of work; form of reporting; engagement terms...
Not an easy balance to strike. We wait with bated breath.
The return and guidance published to date can be found here.