The role of sponsor brings a different perspective, expertise and insight, alongside the professional work of the Audit Scotland teams.
During my time as a member of the Accounts Commission, I’ve acted as sponsor for three very different reports. Firstly, a performance report which we published together with the Auditor General for Scotland on Privately financed infrastructure investment: The Non-Profit Distributing (NPD) and hub models, followed by an Accounts Commission report on Digital progress in Local Government. More recently I was a sponsor for our report on the impact of Covid-19 on Scottish councils’ benefit services.
Together with the audit team, sponsors discuss what a specific publication will cover and why, as well as considering how each output fits in with the wider priorities of the Commission. This is followed by discussion on the drafts of publications with the team and, where relevant, the Auditor General – it’s collegiate working.
Sponsors consider the interplay of themes and interests within and across audits. Our joint report on Privately financed infrastructure investment is a great example of this. The themes we highlighted here – the need to demonstrate good governance and value for money, as well as affordability – were emphasised in our joint report on City Deals. There we stressed the need for better methodology to measure success, impact and value for money.
Our latest strategy highlights four key priorities for the Accounts Commission’s future reporting and will be integral to the themes we cover in future publications.
These priorities are: inequalities and the impact on Scotland’s communities; funding for local government services; the contribution of local government as Scotland seeks to recover from the impacts of Covid-19, and the relationship between local government and its communities.
Our recent report on the impact of Covid-19 on Scottish councils’ benefit services is a good example of how our priorities are fundamental to our reporting. Council benefit services are a lifeline to those needing support at what can be the most difficult times in their lives. Ensuring access to these services is critical.
Collectively, the Accounts Commission has a clear perspective on common themes emerging from our reporting, considering how these themes apply to different audiences and those in local government who we urge to act on our recommendations.
Our ultimate aim is to support improvement to the most fundamental areas of policy and practice: good governance; sound financial management/sustainability; public accountability and transparency and community engagement.
A key challenge is how we make this happen in practice. What is clear is that none of the underlying issues can be resolved by the work of a single organisation, and it takes time for the impact of our recommendations to be seen in practice.
We need to be patient, persistent and consistent, with confidence in the evidence base provided by the audit teams.
Andrew Cowie, Accounts Commission Member