25 March 2020
The current Covid-19 outbreak is forcing most of us to adopt new working patterns, with many adjusting to working from home for the first time. Even those used to working from home on an ad hoc basis are finding it very different when they doing so full time and when colleagues are also all working remotely.
Finance staff and senior leaders in schools are generally quite well set up and used to the technology which makes remote working more efficient.
Academies will be forced to adapt their usual processes as they seek to ensure the operation of key controls is maintained throughout these uncertain times. It is vital that gaps do not appear which can be exploited, and we are already hearing of an increase in attempted frauds.
The obvious areas that may require a change in procedures surround the authorisation of payments to suppliers, or via the payroll to staff. Do take care to double check any payments requests. If in doubt email or call the company, using your usual contacts details instead of replying to the email. Do not be scared to ask, it is better to be safe than to be sorry.
Our top tips to stay safe:
- Where possible operate your existing control procedures, adapting them slightly where necessary.
- You are sure to be faced with staff who are absent. If the person who would usually be an important part of a system is away ensure that an appropriate alternative is used, and that this person is shown what is expected of them. Try to ensure appropriate segregation of duties is maintained.
- Consider filing email approvals in a folder or similar so that these are maintained together for easy access, and then these can be printed, if deemed necessary, once everyone is back in school.
- Situations may arise where the usual controls do not work. It is important to ensure a good audit trail remains in place. If things become really difficult risk should be factored in so that areas potentially more at risk still have the strongest level of controls.
- Internal scrutiny visits may not be able to take place, or at least to the same degree or scope. If finance staff have access to all the information, then it should be possible to complete the work for some topics. At the time of writing we all hope that things will be back to normal in a couple of months, and therefore it may just be a case of postponing visits. However you may wish to consider re-ordering the programme of work agreed with any external provider, or even changing to other themes. In our view it is not essential for internal scrutiny visits to continue, and the ESFA will surely recognise the challenge to academies during this period. We do not believe it is going to cause any significant problems if disclosures are made in Governance Statements explaining that the planned programme of internal scrutiny work could not be fully delivered because of Covid-19.
See also our separate blog covering Governance during Covid-19.
If you have any questions or require any help or support, please contact one of our Academy experts who will be able to help.