What are the Auditor General for Scotland’s powers?

By Stephen Boyle

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The powers of the Auditor General are considerable and are intended to support the democratic scrutiny of how well public money has been spent.  For me, they also exist so that the work of public audit helps improve the lives of the people of Scotland and contributes to building a more caring and fair country. That’s what drove me to apply for the job and what I will be focused on over the next eight years. 

It was Her Majesty The Queen who formally appointed me – a mark of the government act that guarantees that neither the Scottish Government or Parliament can direct or control my work. I am privileged to be independent of both.  

Continue reading What are the Auditor General for Scotland’s powers?

Being an Audit Director at Audit Scotland


We currently have an exciting Audit Director vacancy. In this blog, Gordon Smail, an Audit Director at Audit Scotland, provides some insights into the role.

By Gordon Smail

The Audit Director role really gives me the chance to make a difference. This is both through the audit work that provides assurance to the people of Scotland about how public money is used, and in helping Audit Scotland and our staff develop at a time of significant change for public finances and public audit.

As in the private sector, Audit Directors who are engagement leads oversee financial audits which meet international auditing standards. And because public money is involved, we also report on wider aspects such as financial sustainability, governance and value for money.

This requires technical knowledge and experience, but also an understanding of the issues across the public sector and strong working relationships with leaders and other senior stakeholders. Our aim is to provide independent assurance which supports democratic scrutiny of how public money is raised and spent and the outcomes achieved. For me, my Audit Director colleagues and our teams this work is both challenging and rewarding.

As an Audit Director, I lead and manage audit teams, have a close involvement at key stages of the audits and in the judgements and conclusions we report. Audit Directors are also involved at senior levels in managing Audit Scotland and its business.

An important part of the role is our contribution to the wider work of Audit Scotland in supporting public accountability and improvement. This provides us with unique, privileged access and insight into the public sector and its finances which in turn supports our ability to add value through our audits.

As with all organisations, we have been working hard to manage the impact of Covid-19 on our staff and our work. We are taking a pragmatic, flexible and consistent approach to audit under these conditions.

Audit Directors at Audit Scotland are working well together, building on our strong foundations to maintain the quality and integrity of public audit over this difficult period. I am confident based on our digital and technical support, our networks and approach, and the quality and professionalism of our staff that we are very well-placed to deal with the challenges ahead.

The work here is challenging and the Audit Director role has its pressures and ‘moments’, as you would expect in a senior role. But our culture is supportive and collegiate, with well-being at the centre of our organisational ethos. I work with fantastic colleagues who have a range of backgrounds and expertise, who are there to help, as we support improvement in the public services we all use daily.

If you would like to find out more information about the Audit Director vacancy, please click here. Applications close Monday 11 May, midnight.

Are we spending public money on the right things?


By Caroline Gardner, Auditor General for Scotland

It’s never easy holding the purse strings – from the family budget to the Scottish budget, there’s always a cast of competing voices making a persuasive case for a bigger slice of the pie.  Winning the argument can come down to making the case for what the money will achieve, and why some things really are more important.

The budget for 2020/21 was passed last week with the support of the Scottish Greens. But it remains hard to see exactly how the government expects to make a difference to its priorities – as set out in the National Performance Framework – through its latest spending proposals.

Continue reading Are we spending public money on the right things?

Public sector cyber security: The importance of leadership

contentBy Gemma Diamond and Mark Roberts

It was great to see the Scottish Government’s cyber resilience framework published in January which aims make it much clearer and easier for public bodies to assess their risks and comply with relevant requirements.    Continue reading Public sector cyber security: The importance of leadership

How stable are Scotland’s finances?


By Caroline Gardner, Auditor General for Scotland

It’s in our nature as humans to pay attention to immediate threats to our way of life. It’s much harder to plan for scenarios that we imagine as distant. A complex threat like climate change is the classic example. We’ve heard about the risks for decades but it’s taken an extraordinary teenage girl from Sweden to galvanise public protest, and put pressure on politicians to do more in the here and now.

Continue reading How stable are Scotland’s finances?

What are the procurement fraud red flags to look out for?

By Angela Canning, Audit Director

Auditors are naturally sceptical people. We are mindful that having systems and processes in place to safeguard public money and deter fraud doesn’t always mean that procedures can’t break down, aren’t kept up-to-date or that people won’t try to find ways to cheat the system for their personal benefit.

Continue reading What are the procurement fraud red flags to look out for?

Supporting leaders to lead can help cure bad behaviours


By Caroline Gardner, Auditor General for Scotland

We’ve all felt it – that sense that the culture’s not quite right in an organisation. It can be hard to pin down, but the tell-tale signs are well-known: poor communication, top-down management, disengaged staff, a lack of trust, and bad behaviours like bullying going unchallenged by senior leaders. All too soon it can turn into ‘the way we do things around here.’

Scotland’s public services haven’t been immune. The early years of the Scottish Police Authority were marked by poor governance and difficult relationships, a legacy which is only now being overcome. And the recent Sturrock report into bullying and harassment at NHS Highland found that hundreds of people had experienced inappropriate behaviour.

Continue reading Supporting leaders to lead can help cure bad behaviours

Help improve public services in Scotland as a graduate trainee


By Mark Taylor, Audit Director, Audit Scotland

With continuing pressures on public services, public audit really has never been more important. Our graduate trainees are a hugely important part of our work and life at Audit Scotland. From day one you’ll get hands-on-work experience and play an active part in our work auditing £40 billion of public money, which funds the vital public services you, your family and friends use every day. Continue reading Help improve public services in Scotland as a graduate trainee

The journey to becoming a chartered accountant


Applications for Audit Scotland’s Graduate Trainee Scheme are now open.  Our four-year scheme provides training and development, with plenty of hands-on work experience and support as you complete your Chartered Accountant (CA) qualification with ICAS. So what’s the teaching element of the scheme like? What would you study and what exams would you take? We asked Graham Foster from ICAS to tell you a bit more… Continue reading The journey to becoming a chartered accountant

Why we’re confident, but not complacent about delivering quality


By Fiona Kordiak, Director of Audit Services and CIPFA Scotland chair

“If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen” was one of former US president Harry S Truman’s celebrated sayings.

As auditors we can’t complain when we ourselves come under scrutiny. And the spotlight has been on audit recently due to controversies in the corporate sector.

While public audit hasn’t been involved or implicated, it has been a timely reminder to ensure our house is in order.

At Audit Scotland we’re confident but not complacent. The foundations of public audit in Scotland – independent appointment of auditors that are rotated every five years, a wider scope of audit that goes beyond the numbers, and reporting in public – stand us in good stead.

But we need to continually review what we do.

The Audit Scotland annual report gives detail of the internal and external checks in place to ensure the quality of our work, plus the international standards and the Code of Audit Practice that we follow.

More recently we have also set up a professional support team to provide guidance and advice to auditors at the sharp end and that’s part of the process – we are always learning on how we can improve.

As chair this year of CIPFA Scotland, I’m keen that this message goes out to all working in the public sector in Scotland.

Professional scepticism is the cornerstone of our work.  It’s how we ensure public money is well spent.

And the reality is that high-quality public sector audit that’s independent and evidence-based has never been more important.