Welsh audit is bucking the trend

This article was first published in Public Finance.

Wales has worked hard to ensure it has an audit system that can be relied upon and that continues to develop, writes Auditor General for Wales, Adrian Crompton

Trust in public bodies requires effective public audit. Wales has a public audit system that can be trusted and that continues to develop, writes Adrian Crompton.

The past two years have seen unprecedented levels of criticism of corporate audit, leading to the Kingman, CMA and Brydon reviews. Earlier this year the government also announced a review by Sir Tony Redmond of the effectiveness of the local authority financial reporting and audit regime in England.

Trust in public bodies in a democratic system requires a strong and effective public audit model. And democratic accountability is something that I’m passionate about as I explained in a speech I gave recently in the Senedd (the Welsh Parliament).

It is just over a year since I became Auditor General for Wales and I have been reflecting on some of the strengths of the public audit model that we have in Wales and how we need to develop that further.

As set out in the Annual plan I publish jointly with the Wales Audit Office, my remit is to:

  • assure the people of Wales that public money is well managed;
  • explain how public money is being used to meet people’s needs; and
  • inspire and empower the Welsh public sector to improve.

I am appointed by Her Majesty the Queen and serve for a fixed eight-year term. As a result, I am wholly independent of government and am able to report without fear or favour on a range of governance failings and financial management issues.

I publish a Code of Audit Practice that sets out how my audits should be carried out. The Code establishes a fundamental requirement for me, and my auditors, to act in the public interest and to be wholly independent.

The amalgamation of the NAO and Audit Commission in Wales in 2005 resulted in a unified audit model covering devolved central government, local government and the NHS. I also have extensive powers to follow the public pound across all parts of the Welsh public sector and to provide wide-ranging commentary as I do, for example, in Public Spending Trends in Wales 1990 to 2017-18 and A Picture of Public Services.

As auditors we need to do more than find fault. We have a unique perspective, expertise and insight and we should use that to support public services in improving. Our Good Practice Exchange is a resource through which we share knowledge and ideas by holding free shared learning events, webinars and podcasts. Forthcoming events include diverse and important topics such as accountability and governance in partnership services, adverse childhood experiences and violence against women.

Building from a strong base there is more I plan to do to ensure that my work remains relevant and accessible and helps to support public services to improve.

At the Wales Audit Office, we are mid-way through a three-year project to look at how we can use and analyse data to enhance our scrutiny and improve our insight while also exploring how we can make our analysis and findings more visible, accessible and easier to understand.

Our public services can only improve if we properly understand the experiences of the people who use and rely upon those services. I am therefore placing increasing emphasis on the views and perspectives of those service users, including ‘harder to reach’ groups, when planning and carrying out my work. For instance, we are midway through a study looking at how public bodies – councils, the police, health boards and others – are collectively working to address the needs of rough sleepers. A key strand of our review is engaging with rough sleepers to understand where public services have failed to meet their needs which has contributed to them living on the streets for prolonged periods and the costs to the public purse following on from this.

Also, as delivery models become more complex, I will be looking more closely at the effectiveness of arrangements for integrated and collaborative service delivery.

It is fundamentally important that the findings I report are underpinned by appropriate evidence and rigorous analysis. To provide me with assurance that this is the case I am also carrying out a review of the quality arrangements that support my work, which is examining best practice across the profession.

I believe that public sector audit in Wales is founded on a broad and robust model, which is underpinned by the statutory independence of my office and a talented and dedicated workforce. My commitment to the people of Wales is to use that platform to provide trusted audit assurance and commentary about the issues that matter most for public services in Wales.

About the author

DSC_6056Adrian Crompton became Auditor General for Wales in 2018. As head of the Wales Audit Office, he oversees the annual audit of some £20 billion of taxpayers’ money and is appointed on an eight-year term.

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