Loving the audit
On Monday morning Philip Green (he of Topshop and Simon Cowell friendship fame) was lecturing the public sector about how bad we were at spending the public’s money. As part of his report he criticised the National Audit Office for focusing too much on individual projects, programmes and departments and not looking at the macro level of Government spending, especially in terms of purchasing and procurement. At the same time my authority announced a 50% cut in our internal audit team.
As you can see audit was very much in the news which is a rare event.
All this was going on whilst I was pondering the value of the so-called armchair auditors so it seemed sensible to follow up on a few points from Monday before I forgot.
In my previous post about armchair auditors on Monday I mentioned that I wasn’t sure if it was even possible for members of the public to act as armchair auditors. I pointed out that I didn’t know whether the figures I was reading meant what I thought they did, what context caused the figures, or what I could even do about it.
The response caught me by surprise a little. A few correspondents commented on the piece and I learnt that:
1) £15 million a year seemed a lot for an organisation to spend on this sort of payment
2) The way the dates were spread suggested I might need to take my assumptions with a pinch of salt and
3) That an authority in central London spent 23% of their staffing budget on temporary staff
I was also prompted to do some of my own research and discovered that my own authority spent just over 10% of its budget on temporary staff (much less than those crazy cats in central London!)
And that is from a small blog and a post with just three lines of data in. (Apologies for that as my original had the full lines squashed onto the page; the version you can all read just has the name of the company ad I can’t work out how to fix it).
Maybe, it is possible for us to become armchair auditors if we are able to harness the wisdom of crowds and people are willing to contribute. And if so, it could be a very powerful tool.
However, here is my second potential fly in the ointment: how do we compare local authorities with each other? My authorities 10% of temporary staff might be a very poor performance based on the circumstances (I think so) whereas the 23% in inner London might be a good performance because of the situation they face.
It’s possible we don’t need to compare data and can audit by asking awkward questions but I can’t help thinking we need something more to truly understand whether our authorities are spending correctly… If only we had a commission of some sort to audit local authorities?
Seriously though, the rise of the armchair auditor is here but I think it needs some more thinking… Thoughts please!