Will damning audit of Whitehall department be ignored by BBC?

– probably yes, tho’ BBC Scotland would react differently!

By stewartb

A notable feature of Scotland’s polity is the intense holding to account of the Scottish Government and its agencies by the corporate media and the BBC. This is a ‘good thing’ in principle. However, there are aspects of media practice here that are notable for less positive reasons:

  • a tendency towards bias by omission – substantive good news stories about Scotland and the achievements of the Scottish Government get short shrift;
  • a tendency to avoid giving context or perspective, especially with respect to the wider UK – despite the relevance of the UK for as long as Scotland remains within a Union whose government in Westminster holds most of the levers of power to determine Scotland’s economic, social and environmental ‘condition’;
  • a tendency to amplify negatives about Scotland and its government in Edinburgh to a degree not replicated elsewhere in the UK. 

Indeed, over recent years the charge of ‘gaslighting Scotland’ is being made more often by commentators in social media – and with good reason! To the extent that ‘gaslighting’ is deployed as a tactic to reduce voters’ confidence in Scotland and its institutions – presumably to dampen down momentum towards national self-determination – it seems legitimate to turn the tables, to draw attention to Westminster’s failings in the governance of the ‘precious Union’.

An example of differential media practice – especially BBC practice – is the reporting of official statements by auditors of the Scottish and Westminster governments, published by Audit Scotland and the National Audit Office (NAO) respectively.  It is commonplace for Audit Scotland reports to be combed through for negatives which are then amplified by the BBC and others. NAO reports? Not so much – to say the least! 

What follows are extracts from a recent NAO report which, following the editorial policies applied in Scotland, should be feeding ‘scandal’ headlines: I have yet to spot ANY news coverage whatsoever!  The NAO report is concerned with the Department of Health and Social Care.

Financial audit – Department of Health and Social Care

On 26 January, the NAO reported on an audit of the DHSC’s accounts for 2021-22. This is accompanied by an audit report for the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), an executive agency of the DHSC. 

See https://www.nao.org.uk/press-releases/dhsc-annual-report-and-accounts-2021-22/

From the NAO’s press release we learn (with my emphasis):

  • the Comptroller and Auditor General of the NAO (C&AG) has reported on the 2021-22 accounts of the DHSC, including qualifications of the audit opinions, noting:
    • insufficient audit evidence found to support £1.36bn of consumables inventory;
    • inability to obtain sufficient evidence to support transactions and balances related to the UKHSA in the Departmental Group Accounts. 

The C&AG also issued a “disclaimer of opinion” on UKHSA’s own accounts because ‘a £2.457bn prior period adjustment’ was made without obtaining parliamentary approval which resulted in a breach of one of DHSCs parliamentary controls. The NAO report states: ‘A lack of sufficient, appropriate audit evidence and significant shortcomings in financial control and governance meant he (the C&AG) was unable to provide an audit opinion on the accounts of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).’

The NAO reports a lack of adequate governance, oversight and control at UKHSA.  It notes: ‘Throughout 2021-22, there was no Board or Audit and Risk Assurance Committee in place, meaning that UKHSA did not comply with HM Treasury and Cabinet Office guidance on governance arrangements. Non-executive directors were not appointed until 28 April 2022, 7 months after UKHSA became operational, and the Advisory Board and Audit and Risk Committee did not meet formally until June and July 2022 respectively. This lack of formal governance arrangements exposed UKHSA to a high level of risk, with no clear oversight structure in place for its first six months of operation.’

The NAO adds: ‘DHSC did not sufficiently support or oversee UKHSA to resolve issues it inherited from its predecessors and establish its administrative functions. UKHSA was unable to provide the NAO with sufficient evidence to support balances relating to £794m of stock, and £1.5bn of accruals from NHS Test and Trace, which were transferred from DHSC, or to support £254m of stockpiled goods transferred from its predecessor organisation, Public Health England (PHE). DHSC had not resolved issues with its management systems, financial controls and records, which the C&AG reflected in his report on DHSC’s 2020-21 accounts.’ 

Other observations include:

  • UKHSA did not carry out effective bank reconciliations
  • UKHSA was not able to provide the NAO with evidence to support key balances and transactions in the accounts
  • for the DHSC’s group accounts, the C&AG was unable to obtain the evidence needed to support £1.36bn of stock, due to issues related to inventory management
  • ‘DHSC did not complete an effective programme of year-end stock counts to verify the quantity and quality of items including PPE and lateral flow tests, as it was unable to access 5 billion items (which cost £2.9bn) that were stored in containers, and did not have adequate processes in place for accessible stock held in warehouses.’ 

On the UKHSA, NAO report concludes: “Even taking into account the challenging context, it is unacceptable that UKHSA has not been able to produce auditable accounts and provide the transparency and assurance that Parliament needs. When setting up new bodies, it is essential that basic governance arrangements are put in place. DHSC and UKHSA must work with HM Treasury to get on track to produce auditable accounts”.

The NAO also reports that: ‘DHSC estimates that there has been a £6bn reduction in the value of items procured in response to the pandemic. This comprises:

  • £2.5bn write-down on items costing £11.2bn that DHSC has already purchased, but no longer expects to use, or for which the market price is now lower than the price paid
  • £3.5bn write-down on PPE, vaccines and medication which DHSC has committed to purchase, but no longer expects to use.

Taken together with the £8.9bn written-down in its 2020-21 accounts, over the last two financial years, DHSC has now reported £14.9bn of write-down costs related to PPE and other items.’ 

And: ‘DHSC estimates that ongoing storage and disposal costs for its excess and unusable PPE will be £319m. At the end of March 2022, the estimated monthly spending on storing PPE was £24m.’

End note

It’s so easy to imagine BBC Scotland’s editors and journalists salivating over a report from Audit Scotland with such damning findings. Opposition politicians in Holyrood would be in seventh heaven!  Look at the incompetence, the lack of transparency … or worse … of this government! But England is another country – the corporate media, the BBC and opposition politicians do things differently there!  We really don’t need to wonder why things are different in Scotland – do we?


2 thoughts on “Will damning audit of Whitehall department be ignored by BBC?

  1. The BBC in Scotland is a British nationalist front, whose only task is to monster, diminish and gaslight Scotland.


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