Reporting on social security – behind the scenes

Caroline_twitter_400pxBy Caroline Gardner, Auditor General for Scotland

Around 1.4m of the most vulnerable people in Scotland will be affected by Parliament’s major new social security powers – the main focus of my recent report on the implementation of the Scotland Acts.

A huge amount of work is facing the Scottish Government as they prepare to take responsibility for benefits to carers and disabled people, some ill-health related benefits, parts of the Social Fund, and discretionary housing payments. Continue reading Reporting on social security – behind the scenes

Business Support – be at the heart of Audit Scotland

Officed picAs Audit Scotland seeks a new Business Support Manager we asked Lynn Scott, who has been in the role for the last five years, to give us a bit more insight into life at Audit Scotland.

In the five years I’ve been doing this job, no two days have ever been the same. What’s great about the job is the incredible diversity. It’s based within the Corporate Service Management team but working with all business groups in Audit Scotland. It’s definitely a great way to get to know colleagues from across the organisation and get involved in their work. Continue reading Business Support – be at the heart of Audit Scotland

The road not taken – yet

Caroline_twitter_400pxAuditor General Caroline Gardner on Scotland’s new financial powers and the opportunities and pitfalls that lie ahead.

The Scottish Budget Bill passed its Stage 1 hurdle last week, with support from the Greens and two Lib Dem MSPs. There’s been lots of coverage of the deal that’s been reached – extra cash for councils, low-carbon capital investment and lower-paid public sector workers, plus backing for ferry services in the northern isles – amounting to £170 million. There’s no doubt that it’s an important milestone for the Government, but in some ways the debate has missed the bigger questions. Continue reading The road not taken – yet

Community engagement – auditing impact

Claire Sweeney picBy Claire Sweeney, Associate Director at Audit Scotland

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. Continue reading Community engagement – auditing impact

‘Validating the feels’

Lorraine GilliesBy Lorraine Gillies, Senior Manager, Audit Scotland

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? Continue reading ‘Validating the feels’

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

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

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.