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

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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.

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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

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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.

What can we learn from public sector ICT projects?

Digital technology has become such a familiar feature in our everyday lives that it can be easy to miss until you stop and take a look around. We can order a takeaway, book a gym class, track our morning bus before we’ve even left the house or speak to friends and family on the other side of the globe; all at the click of a button.

So it’s no wonder that as a society, we increasingly expect our public bodies to use digital when delivering services, or that more and more organisations themselves are placing digital at the centre of their plans for future transformation of services.

However, designing and managing ICT programmes remains a challenge for public bodies. Over the past few years, we’ve reported on a number of ICT projects which have gone wrong or had issues. Last year, when we reported on the Scottish Government’s Common Agricultural Policy Futures programme, we said we’d pull together all the lessons learned from our previous reports, and look to other countries to see if they had any other insights to offer.

We’ve now completed that work and we found that the issues experienced by Scottish public sector bodies are no different to those experienced around the world, or indeed in the private sector.

Today we publish Principles for a digital future: Lessons learned from public sector ICT projects. This summary is intended to help public bodies deliver digital and ICT programmes by setting out five high level principles that should be considered as they plan and manage their projects.

Unlike the work we’ve reviewed, this is not a national performance audit report so we’ve adopted a different format for this publication – it’s digital, interactive and, perhaps most importantly, it’s short and easy to read.

The five principles we have set out are:

  • Comprehensive planning
  • Active governance
  • User engagement
  • Leadership
  • Strategic oversight and assurance

Within each of these, there are a number of areas to consider and these cannot be considered in isolation. All interact to help create the right environment for a successful project, and underpinning everything is having the right skills and experience on the project at the right time. We highlight this by using a handy skills icon at various points throughout the document. Of course, we know finding the right skills can be difficult, particularly in the public sector but past projects show that this is an essential ingredient of any successful ICT project.

We’ve packed the summary with helpful quotes and case studies from around the world to add some flavour and help explain the thinking behind our principles in more detail. We’ve also provided a handy list of articles, and links to useful websites we think will be helpful for people responsible for managing or overseeing ICT and digital programmes.

We will also be presenting our findings at various events in the coming months, including the Holyrood Connect Conference in June, so look out for my colleague Gemma Diamond there.

If you’d like to know more, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re keen to hear feedback on the briefing, and whether it’s been of help to anyone thinking about embarking on a new digital/ICT project.

About the author

Morag Campsie is an audit manager and has worked on a variety of financial and performance audits since joining Audit Scotland in 2007. Her recent work includes our report on Managing ICT Contracts in Central Government, and audits of the Scottish Government’s Common Agricultural Policy Futures Programme.

 

Public audit in Scotland: What’s on the horizon?

We are living in incredibly busy times for the public sector in Scotland, with each passing week bringing a new political announcement or debate. With so much going on, it can be hard to think beyond the next few months.

I’ve often heard it said that audit is retrospective in nature, but in fact we spend a lot of time and energy looking ahead to understand what’s on the horizon, what it means for our future work, and what impact we want to have. And we need to make sure that our plans reflect the priorities and concerns of the public and our key stakeholders, whichever policy area we’re focused on.

Our new approach uses these principles to create a rolling five-year programme of audits, which we refresh each year. The results of our latest review are now available on our website, setting out in detail what areas of public spending and policy we plan to report on between now and 2021/22.

The programme covers all of the work that Audit Scotland will carry out over the next five years on behalf of me and my colleagues in the Accounts Commission, the local government watchdog. It’s based on consultation with a range of stakeholders; for example, as Auditor General I report to the Parliament’s Public Audit & Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee and we consulted with committee members to see how the audit risks we’d identified through our work matched what they want to see from public audit in the coming years.

As well as the audits of specific policy developments across the public sector, I’d like to highlight a couple of areas that will inevitably affect much of the public sector, and all of us who use public services in Scotland, in the long-term.

First off are the historic changes taking place in Scotland’s public finances, with new financial powers coming on stream through the Scotland Acts 2012 and 2016. We reported our latest update to MSPs last month and will continue to report on this annually. This commitment reflects the scale of the work that will be required of the Scottish Government and others to successfully implement and manage the new powers.

We’ll also continue to expand our high-profile work on Scotland’s NHS, with audits of the NHS workforce, children’s mental health services, and health and social care integration all in the pipeline.

And there’s lot more, right across the public sector, from ferry services and widening access, higher education to fire reform, digital to community justice. We’ll also continue to explore different ways of making our work accessible to everyone with an interest, building on the range of ways we already report our work.

If you’d like to know more, you can find out who to contact here.

About the author

MM6A8690croppedCaroline Gardner is the Auditor General, and Accountable Officer for Audit Scotland. She started her term in July 2012, and has more than 30 years’ experience in audit, governance and financial management. Follow her on twitter @AuditorGenScot

 

Looking ahead: our work programme

Audit Scotland, on behalf of the Accounts Commission and Auditor General for Scotland, implemented its new approach to programme development about 18 months ago. An important part of that was introducing a more strategic five year rolling work programme, which gets refreshed every year. We did our first formal refresh of its content last December and have published the results today.

Our approach involved taking stock of the unprecedented changes that have been taking place in Scotland, the UK and beyond over the last year, such as Scotland’s New Financial Powers and the outcome of the EU referendum, and what they might mean for our work. We also gave careful consideration to whether the timing was still right for some of the work to which we’re still committed as part of our rolling programme, for example, our planned series of reports on health and social care integration.

A key objective of our new approach to programme development was to ensure that our work is focusing on important issues, where the insights that audit can bring will add value and help make a positive difference to public spending and policy in Scotland.

That being the case we’ve consulted lots of people, both formally and informally, on the key priorities and what our work should focus on. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank anyone who fed in to this process, as the contributions that we received were all valuable and helped us to shape our work plans going forward.

The feedback we’ve had so far has been positive, but we’re not complacent. Over the coming year we will be working hard to broaden our engagement with different groups of people who use and deliver public services in Scotland.

We’ll also be trying out different ways of communicating the messages from our work so that we play our part in improving the key public services that make such a difference to so many people’s lives across Scotland. You can find out more about the different ways we report our work here.

In the mean time if you have any comments on the work programme, or our approach to programme development, find out how to get in touch by visiting our website.

About the author


MM6A7183Antony Clark is an Assistant Director at Audit Scotland.

Auditing historic change in Scotland’s public finances

On 1st April, the Scottish Parliament gained control of income tax rates and bands, higher borrowing limits, and the management of the Crown Estate in Scotland – and there are more new powers to come.

The Scotland Act 2016 is fundamentally changing management of the public finances and, once fully implemented, half of what is spent in Scotland will be raised here and the budget will be subject to greater uncertainty and volatility than ever before. With more control over public finances and new opportunities and risks, it’s clear that we’re entering new territory.

The scale of change needed to implement and manage the new financial powers is significant and it’s important that the Parliament and the public can see what progress is being made. As the public spending watchdog, Audit Scotland has carried out extensive work in this area.

On Thursday, I’ll join the Auditor General, Caroline Gardner, and colleagues to present the findings of our latest report on managing new financial powers to Holyrood’s Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee. We looked at how the Scottish Government, Revenue Scotland and the Scottish Fiscal Commission are introducing and managing the range of powers devolved through the 2012 and 2016 Scotland Acts.

We found that the Scottish Government is well-organised to deliver new tax and spending powers. It has updated its structures for overseeing the new powers and has good programme management processes in place. Revenue Scotland is also making good progress in preparing for further devolved taxes, and the transition of the Scottish Fiscal Commission to a statutory body is being managed effectively.

The new powers will substantially change the type and volume of work the Scottish Government will do. We found that the Scottish Government is identifying the staff and skills it needs, but recruiting enough people with the required skills may prove difficult. We recommend that the Scottish Government build a clearer picture of potential future costs, to help plan how it will fund implementation of the new powers within its budget.

In this changing environment, a more strategic approach to public financial management and reporting is needed. This includes a medium-term financial strategy based on clear policies and principles. The Scottish Government is taking steps to provide a more comprehensive picture of the public finances, as it’s important that the Parliament and public have the information they need to understand and scrutinise the government’s financial decisions.

MSPs will have the chance to discuss these findings in detail with us this week, and the session can be watched live on Parliament TV.

We’ll continue to report on the progress of public bodies in implementing and managing the new financial powers. If you’re interested in our work in this area, our new e-hub on financial devolution has a range of reports, exhibits, briefings and other useful tools.

About the author

MarkTaylorMark Taylor is an Assistant Director in Audit Scotland. He is responsible for overseeing Audit Scotland’s work relating to financial devolution and constitutional change.