By Fraser McKinlay, Director of Performance Audit and Best Value
In March, I was lucky enough to travel to Sydney, Australia, to speak at the IMPACT 2018 conference. It’s a biannual gathering of performance auditors, organised by the Australasian Council of Auditors General (ACAG), and this year hosted by the Auditor General of New South Wales.
It was a fantastic opportunity to share with colleagues my experiences of auditing in an increasingly devolved Scotland, and learn from the best approaches to performance auditing around the world.
I came away with the clear sense that, as performance auditors, there remains much more that unites us than divides us. While countries, governments and audit offices around the world operate in very different contexts, we share many of the same challenges. For example: the implications of new technologies and the rise of artificial intelligence; the shifting relationships between citizens and the state; the urgent need to reduce inequality and ensure that the voices of the most vulnerable in our communities are heard; the need for open, transparent government and for governments to demonstrate best value for the use of public money.
The need for, and benefits of, a strong, independent public audit function is widely shared. But so too is the need for audit offices to be well connected, highly relevant and empathetic to the difficult job that public servants do. One speaker, Martin Stewart Weeks, suggested in his presentation that if audit is fundamentally in the trust business, then it needs to be about ‘legibility, legitimacy and learning’. In other words, the old days of ‘the auditor knows best’ are gone, if they ever existed at all.
More specifically, there were three areas of interest that I’m taking forward in Audit Scotland.
- Citizen engagement and participation. The Philippines have a very impressive approach to engaging citizens in their audit work. It has got me thinking about how we get members of the public more engaged in our audit work.
- Gender equality. At the conference we heard from the CAAF about how public audit is responding to the UN’s sustainable development goals, with a particular focus on gender equality. What might that look like in Scotland?
- Data. I learned about some excellent work from the Office of the Auditor General in New Zealand about using large data sets to improve mental health services. How can we bring these skills to bring insight into our own work?
And, what was a constant throughout the conference and the presentations, was the importance of the unique and unifying perspective that audit brings to bear on the use of public resources. Wherever auditors are based around the world, underpinning our work is the importance of providing assurance on, and to build trust in, our public services.