Select Committee on Public Accounts Eleventh Report

Chapter 4: Support for other organisations


  4.1  The support the National Audit Office provides to Parliament means that the Office has valuable experience which it can share with other organisations. These include a significant international role as one of the leading state audit institutions, and the provision of services to the Auditor General for Wales in his work on behalf of the National Assembly for Wales.


  4.2  A variety of international and overseas commitments arise from the National Audit Office's position as a leading state audit institution. On behalf of the United Kingdom, the National Audit Office seeks to play a full part in the development of public sector audit around the world. The Comptroller and Auditor General is currently:

    —  a member of the United Nations Panel of External Auditors;

    —  a member of the Governing Board of the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions;

    —  a member of the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) Development Initiative Board;

    —  Chairman of the working group of INTOSAI on the audit of privatisation and regulation;

    —  observer to the Governing Board of the European Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (EUROSAI), and a member of the EUROSAI Training Committee; and

    —  a member of the Contact Committee of the European Court of Auditors and the Heads of National Audit Institutions in the European Community.

  4.3  The National Audit Office provides services and advice to a range of international and overseas bodies, such as training, and assurance to significant donors that their funds have been well spent.

  4.4  International and overseas activities over the Plan period will include:

    —  assistance in providing training for Commonwealth, East European and other audit offices, for example, training in the audit of Department for International Development aided projects; and training in value for money audit methodologies for the State Audit Office of Estonia;

    —  arranging secondments of staff to provide a broader range of experience and effective liaison with other state audit offices, overseas governments and international organisations, including the European Commission, the European Court of Auditors, and NATO (24 staff were on secondment overseas at the end of March 2002);

    —  participating as members of INTOSAI, EUROSAI and the European Union Contact Committee in technical standing committees and working groups;

    —  conducting co-ordinated studies of areas of work with other overseas audit offices, such as the French Cour des Comptes, the German Bundesrechnungshof, the Italian Corte dei Conti and the Spanish Tribunal de Cuentas on studies of European defence projects; and

    —  playing a key role in reporting on the use of the European Union budget in the United Kingdom through the National Audit Office's report on the work of the European Court of Auditors.

  4.5  In 2001-02, the National Audit Office received some 570 visitors from 62 countries and handled numerous international enquiries. In many cases, this gives the Office the chance to indicate the range of financial services available in the United Kingdom, and encourages overseas enquirers to look to British firms for further assistance. The Office website is designed to provide information about National Audit Office work to a wide audience, including other Supreme Audit Institutions.

  4.6  The Comptroller and Auditor General is the appointed external auditor of two Specialised Agencies of the United Nations—the International Atomic Energy Agency and the International Labour Organisation. In addition, he is the external auditor of several International Bodies, including the Pan American Health Organisation, the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds, and the Preparatory Commission for the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation. The costs of all international audits are reimbursed. This work brought the National Audit Office some £1 million in audit fees in 2001-02.

  4.7  The National Audit Office has been extremely successful in securing contracts under the EU PHARE programme to provide pre-accession advisors, project leaders and other staff resources to European State Audit Institutions to advise and provide training on issues relating to the European Community (for example, the Common Agricultural Policy) prior to their country's accession to the European Community. This work is expected to generate almost £2 million income in 2002-03.

  4.8  The work involves providing advice and assistance on audit methodologies and approach, and assisting the Supreme Audit Institutions of those countries seeking accession to the Union to develop their capabilities to undertake an effective independent scrutiny of their public finances.

  4.9  Many of the projects are undertaken with other European partners, including the audit offices of Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands and Bavaria. The Audit Commission and District Audit have also partnered the National Audit Office in this work.

  4.10  The current programme will be completed over the course of the Plan period. With Parliament's encouragement, the National Audit Office will be seeking to develop and continue this type of work with overseas organisations on projects funded by the European Community, the Department for International Development, and the World Bank, for example, in support of their strategies for improving performance and accountability in developing countries.

  4.11  In addition to these larger types of project, the National Audit Office has a long history of providing support to audit institutions in developing countries on a smaller scale. For example, the Office currently has two staff working with the Ghanaian Audit Office on a Swedish-funded project and in the last year provided input to projects in Georgia and Ethiopia.


  4.12  The Government of Wales Act 1998 includes a presumption that the Auditor General for Wales will use the services of the National Audit Office in providing assurance and advice to the National Assembly for Wales. The estimated cost of these services amounts to some £2.2 million in 2002-03 and is fully reimbursed by the Auditor General for Wales. Income is expected to remain at around this level in real terms over the Plan period.


  4.13  The work of the Public Accounts Committee is of course the main stimulus for improvements in accountability and value for money for the taxpayer. Often lessons from National Audit Office reports will have a wide application, for example in electronic service delivery, on Private Finance Initiative projects, or across the National Health Service. In selected cases, the Office promotes good practice through running conferences and issuing guidance, normally working closely with the departments concerned. The content of the National Audit Office's conference programme, which is self-financing, will depend on what reports are issued over the Plan period, but it is likely to include services to the elderly and health and safety in the NHS. The Office intends to continue to develop ways to support the Public Accounts Committee's work to secure value for money.

  4.14  Chapter 3 of the Plan refers to the advice, support and assistance provided to Members of the Public Accounts Commission, the Public Accounts Committee and other Members of Parliament through looking into issues of concern raised by individual members. The National Audit Office also receives correspondence and calls from members of the public on a whole range of issues from defence, education and taxation to questions about social security, such as child support. The Office follows up each item of correspondence and aims to provide prompt and helpful replies to members of the public. Alternatively, the Office may be able to use its knowledge of government departments and programmes to put the correspondent in contact with the relevant person in the department concerned or relay their concerns to the department and check that they receive a satisfactory response.

  Several members of the public expressed concerns about the Public Private Partnership deal for London Underground. The National Audit Office used the information provided in its financial analysis of the project produced in December 2001.


  4.15  In carrying out its work programmes, the National Audit Office seeks to help the nation spend wisely and to promote the highest standards in financial management and reporting, the proper conduct of public business and beneficial change in the provision of public services. Such aims need to be backed by professional support services and effective recruitment and development of staff. Central activities include:

    —  Personnel.

    —  Corporate policy.

    —  External and internal communications.

    —  Technical assistance on financial audit and value for money work.

    —  Finance and accounting services.

    —  Facilities and information support services.

    —  Information and communication technology support services.

  4.16  Central activities are subject to the same rigorous pressure as the audit functions to make efficiency savings through, for example, the operation of benchmarking, reviews by internal audit and other external experts, and contracting out. At the present time, the tuition of trainees for professional qualifications; provision of management training; catering services; building security; maintenance of information technology; and the internal audit function are contracted out. In addition, a full facilities management contract, incorporating reprographics, reception facilities, building maintenance, cleaning and the porter/messenger service is in place.

  4.17  The National Audit Office has occupied its present London headquarters since 1986. In recent years, there have been significant developments in working practices which require greater flexibility in accommodation than the building can currently offer, for example in meeting the needs of value for money work, where different combinations of skills are required for each investigation. The Office is therefore reviewing its accommodation requirements to identify options that will meet its needs now and into the future. In practice, the options to be considered are likely to be staying in the present building and carrying out modifications, or moving elsewhere. As regards any relocation, the Office would need to remain within close proximity to the Houses of Parliament.


  4.18  The National Audit Office is committed to quality and to the continuous improvement of its practices and the development of its people. The quality of the Office's work is dependent on staff having technical and management skills and knowledge that are appropriate and up to date. The Office therefore ensures that staff are supported by providing appropriate induction, training and development opportunities, in line with business goals.

  4.19  As part of its programme of continuous improvement, the National Audit Office continues to use the nationally recognised framework for benchmarking training and development activities, known as Investors in People (IIP). The Office achieved Investor in People accreditation in October 1999 and was reaccredited in 2002. Over the past year the National Audit Office has also been using the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) Excellence Model to improve the way it works.

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Prepared 7 November 2002