Academies Financial Handbook
Academy trusts are accustomed to following the governance and financial management guidelines set out in the Academies Financial Handbook (AFH) and in their Scheme of Financial Delegation. The ‘Letter to Academy Trust Accounting Officers’ issued in April 2020 repeated the importance of continuing to follow the principles set out in these documents, even under the current circumstances.
Changes to Procedures
But for many trusts, operational changes as a result of school closures and government advice for staff to work from home where possible, means that adhering to the trust’s approved Scheme of Financial Delegation is impossible – or at least very difficult. As an example, under normal circumstances a Headteacher may authorise day to day expenditure by signing printed system-generated orders. In some settings however, this is unlikely to be practical. Processes and procedures may need to be modified and by adjusting working practices, you will ensure that they can be applied remotely.
Trustee Approval of Changes
Trustees are still responsible for ensuring the trust’s adherence to the principles of financial discipline set out in the AFH. In order to allow trustees to fulfil their obligations and to ensure that internal controls principles are still adhered to, any modifications to delegated authorities and procedures, even if they are considered temporary, should be discussed and, where possible, formally approved by trustees.
Trusts should also consider seeking advice from their internal auditors. They can recommend or advise on acceptable changes to working practices that maintain internal control principles, whilst facilitating the continuation of operations within the trust.
Updating Key Documents
Key documents, such as the trust’s Financial Regulations, should be regularly reviewed and updated. They should reflect approved changes to delegated approval levels, processes and procedures to ensure that employees are aware of their responsibilities and the limits of their authority.
Although trust’s have had to be reactive to the current situation, make sure that lessons have been learned. Ensure that your risk registers and disaster recovery plans have been updated for specific obstacles you have come across so that you are well prepared to react in the future.