Our response to COVID-19 – an update from the Auditor General
I would like to pay tribute to all the public servants who are working so hard to see our country through this crisis. As the organisation responsible for scrutinising so many of these public bodies, we have a privileged insight into how vital they are to everyone’s lives, every day – and even more so at a time like this. As Auditor General, on behalf of everyone at Audit Wales, and simply as a member of the public - thank you.
Last month Audit Wales pulled back from all on-site audit work as the public service focused on the pandemic. We have continued to make progress on other activity by working and engaging remotely, while always prioritising the safety and well-being of colleagues. As restrictions continue, I remain committed to ensuring that our audit work does not have a detrimental impact on the efforts of severely stretched public bodies to deal with the national emergency. That is not to say, however, that I want us to be entirely passive. Well targeted and well delivered public audit has a vital part to play at this time in ensuring value for money, good governance and accountability.
It is already apparent to my audit teams that people and organisations right across the Welsh public services are developing novel and innovative ways of working in response to COVID-19. The crisis is forcing us all to innovate and address long-standing issues with urgency. Both opportunities and risks will doubtless emerge during this period which, if acted upon sooner rather than later, can generate real-time benefits and help to mitigate other risks.
Audit Wales has the capability and capacity to help the wider public sector do just that. Specifically, I propose to undertake work providing real-time capture and sharing of learning and experience across our audited bodies. This will involve our staff in gathering novel and other practice as it emerges and analysing it rapidly to draw out relevant points of learning. We will share the resulting insights swiftly to our key contacts across the Welsh public service.
I am acutely conscious that we need to conduct any activity in a manner that doesn’t impede the very important work that is happening across Wales, and which can add substantial value in informing that work. My intention is therefore to work closely with audited bodies to support them to improve their evolving responses to COVID-19, whilst preserving my objectivity and independence as Auditor General.
Clearly, much of the performance audit work that my office had planned to deliver in the coming year now needs to be re-shaped or deferred, and new priorities are emerging. For example, I am tracking the various COVID-19 funding flows from both UK and Welsh Governments and considering how best I can assure the people of Wales that those funds are well managed and that there is appropriate governance and accountability for the use of public money. Looking a little further ahead, I envisage a focus on what the impact of the current crisis means for the resilience and future shape of public services in Wales.
As ever, our challenge is to find the right balance – the appropriate level of evidence-based reporting, provided at the most suitable time. We must not get in the way of public servants working hard to save lives, but we must also ensure that our reporting is sufficiently robust and prompt to support proper accountability for public money.
In closing, I would like to pay tribute once again to my colleagues across the Welsh public service and the phenomenal work they are doing for the people of Wales. I promise you that everyone at Audit Wales will be doing what we can to help our public services emerge and recover as swiftly as possible.
About the author
Adrian Crompton became Auditor General for Wales in 2018. As head of the Wales Audit Office, he oversees the annual audit of some £20 billion of taxpayers’ money and is appointed on an eight-year term.