Auditee perceptions of external evaluations of the use of resources by local authorities.

Abu Hasan, Haslida; Frecknall Hughes, Jane; Heald, David and Hodges, Ron (2013). Auditee perceptions of external evaluations of the use of resources by local authorities. Financial Accountability & Management, 29(3) pp. 291–326.



The research reported in this paper takes up Michael Power's challenge that accounting researchers should pay more attention to the perceptions of auditees and how they respond to audit regimes. The setting of the study is the intense performance assessment regime imposed on local authorities in England from 2002 to 2009, one part of which – the Use of Resources (UoR) assessment – rated the financial management capability and performance of each English local authority. The perceptions of senior local authority finance officers within the Yorkshire and the Humber region are reported, using a written questionnaire and an interview to explore the reasoning behind the chosen responses. The results are more nuanced than suggested by either the official rhetoric justifying the UoR system or by those critics who view such systems as dysfunctional. Respondents portray themselves as intelligent actors, not as passive recipients. Most learned to use the UoR process to drive performance improvement, though there is some ambiguity as to whether the improvements were genuine or solely a product of the scoring system. Though adding to workload, UoR was regarded as one of the external pressures to be managed and its requirements largely represented professional views of best practice. Three of the types of control that characterise ‘regulation inside government’ (Hood et al., 1999) – oversight, competition and contrived randomness – are seen through the perceptions of the auditees. There is some evidence of the fourth style, mutuality – working through professional networks to help local authorities improve their actual and reported performance.

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