Publication: No room for complacency in public audit

August 1, 2022 by Auditor General

No room for complacency in public audit


Blog: By Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland

The auditing profession is trying to build back the trust and confidence of users of their services, including investors, funders and most notably, the general public, after a challenging period.

Past corporate failures, from outsourcer Carillion to café chain Patisserie Valerie, have put auditors under the microscope.

The UK Government and individual firms have since responded. Audit reforms will provide more statutory powers for a new regulator, to address the perception that auditing and consultancy from the same provider doesn't work, and to tackle the dominance of the largest audit firms.

The auditing of public bodies in Scotland is in a different place. Our public audit model contains safeguards that ensure the independence and robustness of our audit work.

Firstly, almost all Scottish public bodies do not appoint their own auditors - that's done by the Auditor General (for central government bodies, including the Scottish Government, NHS boards and colleges) and the Accounts Commission (for local government bodies).

Another strength is our mixed model of audit, with a third of annual audit work carried out by private firms and the rest by Audit Scotland staff. Every auditor is rotated every five years to further strengthen impartiality.

Their work is guided by our new Code of Audit Practice, which lays out the scope of public audit in Scotland.

It's the platform that allows us to go beyond the requirements of corporate audit and sets the arrangements for monitoring audit quality. It's the bedrock of our independence.

The Code allows us to look at the governance of public bodies, the quality of their leadership and if performance measures are being met.

We also report on how well public bodies are managing taxpayers' money to meet their current plans and future obligations, and in the last year we've begun factoring equality outcomes and net-zero planning into our work.

All that scrutiny is ultimately aimed at helping public bodies improve how well they are spending public money on our behalf.

The Code also gives us the opportunity to report publicly on wider issues across Scotland's public sector through our programme of performance audit work.

It continues to help us to build up a broad perspective on the challenges of implementing public policy in areas like education and social care.

However, it's not just that we do things differently in the public audit sector, we are also striving to drive forward improvements in how we work by investing in quality and innovation, and to harness the exciting technologies available to influence new ways of working.

That's been borne out by an improved position on our audit quality. But we're clear that there's more work we can do there, too.

We also know that Audit Scotland is a very good place to work but, again, we want to ensure we keep striving to improve the experience for all our colleagues.

In the meantime, there is no room for any complacency creeping in around the quality of our work, or the overall contribution we make to the auditing profession.

Our independence demands that.

Stephen Boyle

Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland

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