The 2018-19 accounts of the British Tourist Authority (BTA), also known as VisitBritain and VisitEngland, have received a qualified opinion from the comptroller and auditor general of the National Audit Office, Gareth Davies.
The regulator noted irregular procurement activities and payments of £1.115 million.
This is the third consecutive year that irregular payments have been identified in the audit of the accounts.
The BTA is an arm’s length body of the department for digital, culture media and sport (DCMS).
It is not allowed to enter into a contract worth more than £50,000 through single tender procurement without the approval of DCMS before the contract is awarded.
However, in 2018-19 the BTA repeatedly entered into contracts above this value without DCMS’ approval.
In four contracts, the BTA did not seek approval from DCMS before entering into the contracts.
In another three instances, the BTA asked DCMS for approval but entered into the contracts without approval being given.
There were also two contracts which were expanded beyond the parameters approved by DCMS.
These contracts were for a range of valid business activities; the NAO found no evidence of fraud or corruption.
DCMS has since retrospectively approved one contract but has declined to approve the rest.
Payments made as part of these contracts are therefore in breach of regulations.
The BTA made irregular payments of £1.115 million through these contracts.
Previous audits of the BTA have also found irregular payments.
In the years 2016-17 and 2017-18, BTA made non-contractual severance payments without getting approval from DCMS and HM Treasury beforehand.
These audits concluded that the BTA repeatedly broke the regulations because of failures in its internal controls on spending.
In response to the NAO’s findings on procurement activities, over the last six months DCMS has strengthened its oversight and intervention.
The BTA has acknowledged similar issues have also taken place in 2019-20 and it is currently working with DCMS to tackle these challenges.
Gareth Davies, the comptroller and auditor general, said: “The last three audits of the British Tourist Authority have uncovered repeated failings in the way it has spent public money.
“The BTA has knowingly entered into contracts for which it did not have approval, disregarding regulations designed to ensure that public money is being spent as Parliament intended.
“The BTA needs to work closely with DCMS to significantly improve its internal controls on spending and ensure that it fulfils its obligations as a publicly-funded body.”