Community engagement – auditing impact

Over the last few months we’ve been learning more about community engagement.  It’s a fascinating issue that’s never been more important in Scotland and it’s an increasingly important part of our audit work.  But to audit community engagement fully we need to both understand it and develop ways of assessing where it’s working well. That’s easier said than done.  Lorraine Gillies, who is with us on secondment from West Lothian Council, has been helping us with this.

Looking at how public bodies engage with and empower communities has long been a feature of our audit work. Now, with the Community Empowerment Act there are new aspects for us to consider.  This includes looking at how far the community asset approach is helping transform services through involving people in a different way. The community asset approach is simply a way of focusing on and harnessing individual and community ‘assets’, rather than focusing on problems or ‘deficits’.

Community engagement is also something that our partners in other scrutiny bodies are very interested in too.  It has been a source of much discussion at the Strategic Scrutiny Group – a national forum (hosted by the Accounts Commission) with all scrutiny bodies in Scotland, for example, the bodies who carry out scrutiny of housing, care, prisons and health services.  This group ensures that the scrutiny of public sector bodies is better targeted and scrutiny reflects any risks identified. It’s no surprise that how well organisations are empowering communities is high up on the group’s agenda – it’s an area where we know we can work together to add real value.

So, to get things started we have already held three round table discussions, helping us develop a deeper understanding of community engagement and empowerment. Key discussion included: what does it look like when it’s working well; what are the issues we need to be aware of and what are the tensions, and what are the issues we need to focus on through our scrutiny work to add real value? We’ve learned a lot through this process of listening and learning from the experts.

Andrew Magowan from Inspiring Scotland has been involved and says it’s been valuable: “Community engagement is central to our national aspirations around community planning and empowerment and for Inspiring Scotland, is often the first step in building the foundations for transformative change for individuals and communities. Therefore, the working group has provided a valuable opportunity to explore the nature of community development, it’s role and how to assess its effectiveness.”

And Lynn Molleson from COSS (Community Ownership Support Service) adds: “The community engagement round table has given us a chance to network with other agencies and colleagues involved in trying to capture meaningful change at community level. Since the Community Empowerment Act was passed in 2015 we have seen a big uptake in interest from communities in taking on assets and in interfacing with service providers.”

We’re now getting on with designing our approach and seeing what’s happening across Scotland.  You might be interested in some of the big issues we’ve been considering:

  • Don’t underestimate the power of learning and training, bringing together people from different sectors, such as housing and health – there is much to learn from each other.
  • Do people feel engaged and listened to?  Do they feel they have a central role to play in shaping the way needs are met?
  • What are the signs that an organisation takes community engagement seriously?  This could be the importance placed on supporting volunteering, whether engagement with the public is authentic, how honest decision making processes are, or that the organisation pays a lot of attention to whether engaging with the public is resulting in tangible differences to the way they work.
  • Authenticity is vital.  Are organisations honest about what they heard, what they changed as a result and critically, what they were unable to change and why? Done well it’s about working together to find a better way of meeting needs and developing local communities.
  • A focus on outcomes is important but is developing capacity and capability even more vital?

Our round table experience shows that time spent listening and learning together in an open and authentic way is time well spent.  Our work in this area will have an impact across a number of programmes of scrutiny activity, including how we carry out our work on best value in the public sector.

We’re looking forward to understanding more about what you are doing well and how you are overcoming the barriers to the changes that were envisaged in the Community Empowerment Act.  If you would like to know more or have any examples to share then our team are happy to hear from you.

About the author

Claire Sweeney pic Claire Sweeney is Associate Director at Audit Scotland


The £40 billion career

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be on the road at graduate recruitment fairs around the country.

It’s a part of my job that I really love. Along with some of our current trainees, I get to meet graduates from different backgrounds, talking about our work, trainee scheme and future career opportunities.

We’re a really friendly team and we will be waiting to welcome you and chat about our work and your future career at these events:

  • Glasgow, SEC, 3 October (2pm -7pm)
  • Glasgow, ICAS office, 12 October (6.30pm-8.30pm)
  • Edinburgh, CA House, 19 October (6.30pm-8.30pm)
  • Edinburgh, Corn Exchange, 26 October (11.00am – 3.00pm)

Our trainees come from a variety of backgrounds – just graduated, mature students or people looking to change career, from a vast range of degree subjects. We have auditors with degrees as varied as Law and philosophy. What matters is that you have a 2:1 degree or above in any discipline, as well as strong numerical and analysis skills.

We have recruited 15 graduate trainees this year. Our graduate trainees are vital to our business and, if you’re successful in joining our 2018 training scheme you’ll find there are loads of benefits. This includes:

  • Getting full sponsorship to become a qualified Chartered Accountant with ICAS
  • Receiving a starting salary of £21,658 and bonus potential
  • Flexible working
  • Having fantastic job opportunities when you qualify.

And that’s not all. One of the great advantages of working with us is that, from early in your career, you’ll be working as part of our audit teams, helping audit £40 billion of public money – that’s the money which funds the vital public services you, your family and friends use each and every day. You will also travel across Scotland as you work on different audits.

If this sounds like a great opportunity, then come and see us and find out more. Our trainees are ambitious and have a passion for helping improve public services in Scotland.

There’s plenty of information on our website and you can watch our short animation, giving you an insight into our work.


About the author


Debi finalDebi Chisholm is HR Consultant at Audit Scotland.

‘Validating the feels’

It can be a challenge to convince some funders, academics, policy makers, health bodies, inspectors, auditors and assessors that the creative and relational are just as important as quantitative measures in health, wellbeing and social justice. Where is the evidence that although all the processes are in place and the boxes are ticked that someone still feels that they aren’t getting the help they need, for example?

I was recently involved in a research project led by Dr Marisa De Andrade from the School of Health in Social Science at the University of Edinburgh that asked some pretty tough questions about how we ‘measure humanity’. Can you connect individual, community and structural levels to ‘measure’ changes in health, wellbeing and inequalities through creative community engagement? Can you prove that an individual has achieved better life chances through being involved in some community connecting activity?

‘Validating the feels’ – or getting these approaches ‘quality assured’ – calls for a reconceptualization of the evidence base as you try to represent community members or individuals lived experiences.

All of this has been in the forefront of my mind as I’ve been overseeing Audit Scotland’s most recent report on Self Directed Support (SDS).

It’s not a new concept to Audit Scotland, that people’s views are essential evidence that tells us so much about the experience they have about the services they use. We are increasingly thinking of new ways to ensure that people are involved in our work – for example our CheckSee project with Young Scot enabled us to co-design some new approaches with young people – and it’s important to us that we understand the story and the outcomes as well as the input, outputs and costs.

We know that often it’s the narrative behind the data that gives the richest picture.

This will be even more important to us as we get into the realms of the Community Empowerment Act and undertake an audit in 2018/19 on Reforming Public services through better asset management.

The team working on the SDS audit have focused as much on users views as the data and statistics to tell a story about what’s working for people and how they feel about the services they receive. We have used our links to a range of organisations to get direct access to people using SDS and their carers; we have run surveys, focus groups and all sorts of other methods to make sure that we hear from the horse’s mouth.

This isn’t entirely new for us at Audit Scotland but I’m not sure that the rest of the world appreciates that we do this to the extent that we do.

So, while the data and statistics and money is important to us as we tell the stories we do about Scottish public services, I’m glad to say that we are ‘validating the feels’ too!

About the author

Lorraine Gillies

Lorraine Gillies is a Senior Manager at Audit Scotland



Listening to you….

We recently published our follow up report on self-directed support (SDS). SDS is a major change in the way social work services are delivered, aiming to give people more choice and control over their social care support. The report looks at what progress has been made in implementing SDS and what the impact has been on people with support needs, families and carers.

As part of this work we gathered views from those who have had direct experience of self-directed support. We wanted to say a huge thank you for taking the time to tell us your experiences, be that as a user or family member or carer of someone needing support. This may have been through our survey, one of our focus groups or speaking to the team in person. Your stories have been invaluable in helping us to understand how self-directed support is really working.

Everyone’s views fed directly in our report  and gave us a rich understanding of how SDS works for people across Scotland, from the process to the impacts on their lives. We heard about how it is working well for some people and the reasons for this and similarly where people have not had their desired outcomes or the type of support they want. All this information has helped us come to our conclusions and produce recommendations for what needs to improve in future.

In addition to the publication, we have produced a series of supplements including an overview of responses to our user survey. This gives you a flavour of what people across Scotland have said about their experiences.

Thanks again for sharing your stories. It really is important for our work as the public spending watchdog to understand how SDS is working for you.


About the author


Zoe McGuire is an Audit Scotland auditor who worked on the survey and the report.

Calling all school leavers – unique opportunity to work, learn, study and get paid

If you’re a recent school leaver you’re likely to be facing some big decisions. You’ve got your exam results, but now you’ll be figuring out what to do next. Perhaps you want to continue in education. Or maybe you’re keen to jump straight into work, train on the job and start earning.

This year, for the first time, we’re running a school leavers scheme. It’s a unique opportunity to contribute to our work, study towards an internationally recognised accountancy qualification and get paid.

We’re looking for two school leavers to join us, in our Edinburgh office, from October.

We’ve joined forces with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). Two trainees will be employed by CIPFA on a one-year contract and will join us four days a week to support our audit work. The remainder of your time will be spent completing the Association of Accounting Technicians level four qualifications.

At the end of the contract you’ll have the chance to join our four-year graduate scheme, and advance your skills by completing the ICAS chartered accounting qualification.

First off, let me explain what Audit Scotland actually does, and the sort of work you could get involved in.

We all use public services like schools, colleges, hospitals, emergency services and local council services every day. These are financed by around £40 billion of public money. Because we’re independent of the organisations we audit, Audit Scotland is in a unique position to help ensure public bodies in Scotland deliver value for money services. We report on over 220 public organisations, from the NHS and Police Scotland to every local council. It’s about helping them make the best use of our money, and in turn making sure we all receive the best possible public services.

And, as you’ll discover, it’s not just about the finances. We’re here to support public bodies in other ways as well.

The day-to-day role of an auditor isn’t all about numbers; it’s a really varied role. One day you’ll be travelling to different parts of Scotland undertaking interviews, finding where and how a particular organisation has been spending public money and the next you could be analysing this information, getting ready to report your team’s findings in public. It’s a really exciting and vital role where you can help make a real difference, and no two days are the same.

Find out more about life at Audit Scotland in our animation.

Join us!

If you’re ambitious, have a passion for helping improve public services in Scotland, and have a Higher Grade of B+ in English and Maths, then why not consider applying? This is a unique opportunity. More information and how to apply can be found here. Applications close on Sunday 27 August so don’t leave it too late!

About the author

Morgan Kingston


Morgan Kingston is a Senior Auditor at Audit Scotland.

The Accounts Commission prepares for a new phase of leadership


The campaign to recruit a new Chair of the Accounts Commission is underway, marking the first milestone in an important phase for the Commission. The advert for the post has been published on the Scottish Government’s public appointments website.

It’s an increasingly high profile position and one that has a significant and central role in improving the delivery of our most critical day to day public services across Scotland.

The Chair will lead a body that has played a pivotal role in Scottish public life for over 40 years. The work of the Accounts Commission has evolved over the decades, increasing its profile, but its core purpose remains the same – holding local councils to account for their performance, and in doing so acting impartially and independently of councils and government.

The Commission has an intensive work programme. It reports to the public and engages with audited bodies and other stakeholders on matters arising from the audit of 32 Scottish councils, 33 associated council bodies and 30 joint health and social care integration boards. Read more in the Commission’s latest strategy and action plan.

This means the Chair is required to make a commitment of, in effect, at least half a working week, every week.

The role brings with it a number of a challenges and opportunities. Like all members of the Commission, the Chair should have a passion and vision for helping ensure Scotland’s public services are the best they can be. They need to be able to bring together 12 people, from very different backgrounds, with a range of experience and professional knowledge, and encourage them to make findings and judgements about public bodies.

Increasingly, the work of the Commission receives both local and national media coverage. Its reports are integral to debates and discussions in the Scottish Parliament and are expected to help inform debate in local communities.

The Chair is the most high profile member of the Commission – representing the watchdog in the Parliament, in the media and engaging directly with councillors and the public. The Commission believes that effectiveness lies in the impact of the messages articulated from its audit work to councils, government and particularly citizens. And it is for the Chair to ensure shape and context to these messages.

The environment in which the Accounts Commission works continues to change: we have a new political and leadership landscape in local government following May’s council elections. The Scottish Government’s agenda for change also continues, such as the recent announcements around further reform of education; an area that we will be dedicating work to in coming months. And the recent tragedy at Grenfell Tower in London has considerable implications for local government across the UK, in terms of planning and building regulation and safety and housing availability.

There has already been a recent period of substantial change for the Commission, with the first of the reports from the recently published new approach to auditing Best Value; publication of high-profile performance audits in a range of policy areas, and an updated strategy underlining its expectations for improvement in councils.

The Chair works closely with the Auditor General, Caroline Gardner, in taking forward public audit in Scotland, including providing direction for Audit Scotland. The Controller of Audit reports to the Commission on the accounts of local authorities and matters arising from these audits. Find out more about this on the Commission’s website.

The appointment of Chair is initially for four years, with the option of reappointment by the Minister for Local Government and Housing, Kevin Stewart MSP, for another four years.

A new Chair will be in place from 1 November, appointed by the Minister. Currently, the post is being fulfilled on an acting basis by Ronnie Hinds. The Commission recently chose Christine May to act as his Deputy in this interim period.

The Chair of the Commission is a high-profile influential role. The appointment of a new chair marks the beginning of a new and exciting era for the Commission, as we respond to ever more challenging times.

About the author

MM6A5388Paul Reilly is Secretary to the Accounts Commission



Audit Scotland goes global

globeBy Sarah Pollock

You might not know it, but people from all over the world are curious about public audit in Scotland.

Scotland’s financial devolution settlement is complex and ever-changing. Our health and social care services have gone through a sustained period of reform, and they continue to face demographic challenges. Community empowerment legislation is changing the way local decisions about services and public spending are made. Add in Brexit and talk of a potential further referendum on Scottish independence, and Scotland makes a fascinating case study for the people charged with tracking public money from our fellow audit institutions overseas.

We’re really keen to share the expertise and knowledge we’ve gleaned from this environment with auditors outside of Scotland. In 2017, we’ve already given visitors from the Board of Audit of Japan an insight into how we operate and hosted two interns from the Palestinian State Audit and Administrative Control Bureau for them to learn more about local government in Scotland. With the help of video conferencing technology, we had the pleasure of presenting at the Canadian National Performance Audit Symposium in Toronto. It was great to be able to showcase how we make the data from our reports come to life to an audience on the other side of the Atlantic – all from the comfort of our Edinburgh office.

As an organisation that strives to be world class, we very much see this learning process as a two-way street and we are keen to learn from the experience of other audit institutions. As part of our recently published ICT lessons learned briefing we included case studies and quotes from audit organisations worldwide including Australia, New Zealand and Holland. These brought an international perspective on how other organisations have dealt with ICT issues, which Scottish public sector organisations can learn from when managing their digital programmes.

With all of this activity going on, we’re delighted to launch our #GoingGlobal  web page – the first point of contact for anyone looking to visit us and learn more about public sector audit in Scotland. Keep an eye on it, as well as our #GoingGlobal posts on social media to find out about all of our latest international activity. You can also find more detail in our International Annual Report. We hope that people with an interest in audit, scrutiny and improving public services around the world see it as a helpful resource.

sarah p

Sarah Pollock is Audit Scotland’s International Liaison Manager

What’s next for the local government watchdog?

With the dust finally settling following May’s local elections, council administrations are beginning to take shape across Scotland. These new administrations will straight away need to get down to the business of running their councils and planning for the future, and in doing so, are facing some big questions.

How can they continue to provide high quality services for their communities as demographic pressures grow? How will they reduce inequalities at a time when public finances are constrained? How can they meet the increased expectations of the public as the community empowerment agenda takes shape?

As the independent spending watchdog for local government, the Accounts Commission is acutely aware of these challenges. Indeed, we reported on them in detail in our annual flagship 2017 overview of local government in Scotland.

In our Strategy and annual action plan 2017-2022, published today, the Commission has set out our expectations of local authorities over the coming years.  The overriding message of the Strategy is that councils should be able to meet their statutory duty of Best Value by demonstrating a pace, depth and continuity of improvement in their performance. In last year’s engagement sessions with council leaders and chief executives and in engaging with councils in our audit work, the Commission has heard concerns about how this can be achieved within the challenging context that councils are operating in. But continuous improvement isn’t about coming top of every single indicator all of the time. Rather, it’s about choosing clear priorities to focus on, showing how the choices have been arrived at, and reporting clearly to citizens the progress against these priorities and on the quality and cost of services.

With this in mind, the Commission has started its new approach to auditing Best Value, and will be reporting on six councils in the coming year. This will evaluate how councils are progressing a number of priority areas, including: choosing clear priorities and having better long-term planning; redesigning services in a way that goes beyond just making incremental financial savings; ensuring they have the right people in place to plan and deliver these services; involving citizens more in decision-making; and reporting their performance in a way that enhances their accountability to communities.

We have also committed to making sure that all of our audit work contains practical advice for councillors and pointers to good practice. We want our work to contribute to improving local government in Scotland in these challenging times.

Whether you’re a council tax payer, a newly elected councillor, a council officer or just have an interest in local government in Scotland, I’d encourage you to take a look at our Strategy here. And if you’d like to see which areas the Accounts Commission will be focusing on over the next five years, you can find out more on our work programme web page.

About the author

AuditScotland_P_006Ronnie Hinds is Acting Chair of the Accounts Commission and a former chief executive of Fife Council. He also chairs the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland.

Could you be our next Corporate Finance Manager?

We’re looking to hire a new Corporate Finance Manager.  You may well ask, why does an audit organisation need to recruit such a person? Surely we’re already home to plenty of staff with financial management skills?

Well, the thing is, we’re not looking for an auditor – we already have 200 of those!

We’re looking for someone who will be our most important financial adviser. Just as our auditors ensure that public bodies use public money efficiently and effectively, we’re after someone who can ensure that we’re spending the public funds in exactly the same way – generating the most value for the public purse.

The job encompasses all aspects of finance and your contribution will be essential to the development and management of the organisation.

Based in Edinburgh, but working with teams across Audit Scotland, and reporting to the Chief Operating Officer, you’ll be advising senior managers on how to use their financial, physical and administrative resources. You’ll provide advice to the Audit Scotland Management Team and the Board, including drawing up our budget proposals to the Scottish Parliament. It’s a high-profile job within the organisation, but this is where your work and professional advice have a real impact.

We need someone who is keen to learn the detail of our business, the nuts and bolts of how our organisation and finances work. You’ll need this knowledge as you advise senior colleagues and as you get involved in project teams that are transforming our organisation.

We may be a relatively small organisation, but we have a world-class reputation. As we audit more than 220 public bodies across Scotland, our own financial governance and reporting must adhere to the same high standards that we’d expect those organisations to achieve.

Our organisation continues to evolve as we respond dynamically to the changes taking place across the public sector and the arrival of new financial powers for Scotland. Thinking about how all this applies to the financial management of our business will be a core part of your role. And just as our business is changing, your role is also likely to change.

We’re a dynamic, forward-looking organisation. We value our colleagues and our modern, technology-driven workplaces mean there is lots of flexibility in how you can carry out your work, whether it’s working remotely where appropriate or Skype-ing with colleagues and contacts many miles away!

If this job sounds right for you, then call for a chat or apply online.

About the author

Fiona Kordiak is Director of Audit Services, with responsibility for in-house audit services we provide to the NHS, central and local government sectors.

Looking through a public health lens – what did we see?

Audit Scotland has an interest in improving the health of the population – indeed, don’t we all?

How do we know what’s value for money, what works and what’s important to people who use services?  We have a commitment to try and find new ways of measuring the things that matter to people and understanding the outcomes than can be achieved by effective public services.

Public health directors and specialists have a vital interest in accountability and governance in these services – improving and protecting health, ensuring the quality of health and social care services, tackling inequalities and delivering a fair approach to support people to achieve better health.

Public health professionals want to help set the right measures, and we want to use these measures to tell a story about quality of public services and what those services mean to people.

Our common ground is that we both want to assure the public that resources are used in proportion to needs, so that outcomes are being achieved.

That’s why a bunch of accountants, auditors and public health specialists, gathered in Audit Scotland’s Edinburgh office last week to figure out new approaches, make new relationships and to draw out our joint challenges and opportunities. We co-chaired the event with NHS Health Scotland and heard from Neil Hamlet, one of the authors of a 2015 report by the Scottish Public Health Network. We were also joined throughout the day by a range of other key colleagues from the third sector, community planning and housing. This input gave us other dimensions to consider, and a richer discussion as we chewed over some real housing and homelessness-related case studies.

What did we find?

  • That we are pushing at an open door – we agree that it’s all about outcomes and good quality public services for people, at the right time and using resources well
  • We have a pool of expertise that we can use better – we will keep in touch and have already found ways of interacting more effectively together
  • There is considerable power from working together
  • The role of the third sector is vital in delivering outcomes
  • Speaking to people about how they feel is vitally important in evidencing what’s working
  • We like to tweet – over 30 tweets from participants and lots of endorsements that the session was a good use of all of our time.

We also benefitted from the talents of a graphic recorder through the day – Catherine McKay from Listen Think Draw illustrated all of the discussion and you can see some of the images here or watch this video to see what was covered.

About the author

Lorraine Gillies image
Lorraine Gillies is on a 23 month secondment to Audit Scotland from West Lothian Council. A former community planner, she has a keen interest in the field of citizen engagement. She is chair of the housing and disability charity Housing Options Scotland.