Independent auditor's report to the Auditor General for Scotland and the Scottish Parliament
Reporting on the audit of the financial statements
Opinion on financial statements
I have audited the financial statements in the Scottish Government Non-Domestic Rating Account for the year ended 31 March 2021 under Schedule 12 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992. The financial statements comprise the Receipts and Payments Account, Statement of Balances and the notes to the financial statements. The financial reporting framework that has been applied in their preparation is applicable law and the receipts and payments basis.
In my opinion the accompanying financial statements:
- properly present in accordance with Schedule 12 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 as amended by Schedule 13 of the Local Government etc (Scotland) Act 1994 and directions made thereunder by the Scottish Ministers the receipts and payments of the account for the year ended 31 March 2021 and the balances held at that date; and
- have been prepared in accordance with the requirements of Schedule 12 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 and directions made thereunder by the Scottish Ministers.
Basis for opinion
I conducted my audit in accordance with applicable law and International Standards on Auditing (UK) (ISAs (UK)), as required by the Code of Audit Practice approved by the Auditor General for Scotland. My responsibilities under those standards are further described in the auditor's responsibilities for the audit of the financial statements section of my report. I was appointed by the Auditor General on 1 July 2020. The period of total uninterrupted appointment is one year. I am independent of the account in accordance with the ethical requirements that are relevant to my audit of the financial statements in the UK including the Financial Reporting Council's Ethical Standard, and I have fulfilled my other ethical responsibilities in accordance with these requirements. Non-audit services prohibited by the Ethical Standard were not provided to the account. I believe that the audit evidence I have obtained is sufficient and appropriate to provide a basis for my opinion.
Risks of material misstatement
I report in a separate Annual Audit Report, available from the Audit Scotland website, the most significant assessed risks of material misstatement that I identified and my judgements thereon.
Responsibilities of the Accountable Officer for the financial statements
As explained more fully in the Statement of Accountable Officer's Responsibilities, the Accountable Officer is responsible for the preparation and proper presentation of financial statements in accordance with the financial reporting framework, and for such internal control as the Accountable Officer determines is necessary to enable the preparation of financial statements that are free from material misstatement, whether due to fraud or error.
Auditor's responsibilities for the audit of the financial statements
My objectives are to obtain reasonable assurance about whether the financial statements as a whole are free from material misstatement, whether due to fraud or error, and to issue an auditor's report that includes my opinion. Reasonable assurance is a high level of assurance, but is not a guarantee that an audit conducted in accordance with ISAs (UK) will always detect a material misstatement when it exists. Misstatements can arise from fraud or error and are considered material if, individually or in the aggregate, they could reasonably be expected to influence the economic decisions of users taken on the basis of these financial statements.
Irregularities, including fraud, are instances of non-compliance with laws and regulations. I design procedures in line with my responsibilities outlined above to detect material misstatements in respect of irregularities, including fraud. Procedures include:
- obtaining an understanding of the applicable legal and regulatory framework and how the account is complying with that framework;
- identifying which laws and regulations are significant in the context of the account;
- assessing the susceptibility of the financial statements to material misstatement, including how fraud might occur; and
- considering whether the audit team collectively has the appropriate competence and capabilities to identify or recognise non-compliance with laws and regulations.
The extent to which my procedures are capable of detecting irregularities, including fraud, is affected by the inherent difficulty in detecting irregularities, the effectiveness of the account's controls, and the nature, timing and extent of the audit procedures performed.
Irregularities that result from fraud are inherently more difficult to detect than irregularities that result from error as fraud may involve collusion, intentional omissions, misrepresentations, or the override of internal control. The capability of the audit to detect fraud and other irregularities depends on factors such as the skilfulness of the perpetrator, the frequency and extent of manipulation, the degree of collusion involved, the relative size of individual amounts manipulated, and the seniority of those individuals involved.
A further description of the auditor's responsibilities for the audit of the financial statements is located on the Financial Reporting Council's website. This description forms part of my auditor's report.
Reporting on regularity of receipts and payments
Qualified opinion on regularity
In my opinion, except for the effects of the matter described in the basis for qualified opinion on regularity paragraph, in all material respects:
- the receipts and payments in the financial statements were incurred or applied in accordance with any applicable enactments and guidance issued by the Scottish Ministers, the Budget (Scotland) Act covering the financial year and sections 4 to 7 of the Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act 2000; and
- the sums paid out of the Scottish Consolidated Fund for the purpose of meeting the payments shown in the financial statements were applied in accordance with section 65 of the Scotland Act 1998.
Basis for qualified opinion on regularity
The Non-Domestic Rating Contributions (Scotland) Regulations 1996 were made under Schedule 12 to the Local Government Finance Act 1992 to govern the operation of the Non-Domestic Rating Account. The regulations permit mid-year adjustments to councils' funding only where revised non-domestic rating income estimates by councils are below 97 per cent of their initial estimates. During the 2020/21 financial year, to support councils' cashflows during the Covid 19 pandemic, the Scottish Government adjusted non-domestic rating receipts and payments based on councils' mid-year estimates. However, the adjustments included £60.3 million where the mid-year estimates were more than 97 per cent of the initial estimates. As a result, the Non-Domestic Rating Account includes £40.4 million of receipts and £19.9 million of payments which were not in accordance with the regulations. These receipts and payments are therefore irregular. I consider the amounts to be material, and I have therefore qualified my opinion on regularity.
I believe that the audit evidence I have obtained is sufficient and appropriate to provide a basis for my qualified opinion.
Responsibilities for regularity
The Accountable Officer is responsible for ensuring the regularity of receipts and payments. In addition to my responsibilities to detect material misstatements in the financial statements in respect of irregularities, I am responsible for expressing an opinion on the regularity of receipts and payments in accordance with the Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act 2000.
Reporting on other requirements
Statutory other information
The Accountable Officer is responsible for the statutory other information in the Scottish Government Non-Domestic Rating Account. The statutory other information comprises the Foreword and Statement of Accountable Officer's Responsibilities.
My responsibility is to read all the statutory other information and, in doing so, consider whether the statutory other information is materially inconsistent with the financial statements or my knowledge obtained in the audit or otherwise appears to be materially misstated. If I identify such material inconsistencies or apparent material misstatements, I am required to determine whether this gives rise to a material misstatement in the financial statements themselves. If, based on the work I have performed, I conclude that there is a material misstatement of this statutory other information, I am required to report that fact. I have nothing to report in this regard.
My opinion on the financial statements does not cover the statutory other information and I do not express any form of assurance conclusion thereon except on the Foreword to the extent explicitly stated in the following opinion prescribed by the Auditor General for Scotland.
Opinions prescribed by the Auditor General for Scotland on the Foreword
In my opinion, based on the work undertaken in the course of the audit, the information given in the Foreword for the financial year for which the financial statements are prepared is consistent with the financial statements.
Matters on which I am required to report by exception
I am required by the Auditor General for Scotland to report to you if, in my opinion:
- adequate accounting records have not been kept; or
- the financial statements are not in agreement with the accounting records; or
- I have not received all the information and explanations I require for my audit.
I have nothing to report in respect of these matters.
Conclusions on wider scope responsibilities
In addition to my responsibilities for the annual report and accounts, my conclusions on the wider scope responsibilities specified in the Code of Audit Practice are set out in my Annual Audit Report.
Use of my report
This report is made solely to the parties to whom it is addressed in accordance with the Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act 2000 and for no other purpose. In accordance with paragraph 120 of the Code of Audit Practice, I do not undertake to have responsibilities to members or officers, in their individual capacities, or to third parties.
Michael Oliphant FCPFA
102 West Port
15 December 2021