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NAO targets increased accountability

7 July 2020: The National Audit Office has set out its five-year strategy to improve accountability and scrutiny, increase impact on outcomes and value for money, and provide accessible independent insight.

In June 2020, the National Audit Office (NAO) published its five-year strategy for 2020 to 2025. This is in the context of a pandemic, the UK’s exit from the EU Single Market and Customs Union, climate change and net-zero, as well as a greater focus on infrastructure and a digital agenda. 

The NAO, led by the Comptroller & Auditor-General Gareth Davies, is the UK’s independent public spending watchdog. It is charged with supporting Parliament in holding government to account and in helping public services improve through high-quality audits.

The NAO has identified three strategic priorities, which are to:

  • Improve the NAO’s support for effective accountability and scrutiny
  • Increase the NAO’s impact on outcomes and value for money
  • Provide more accessible independent insight

The NAO intends to achieve this by attracting, retaining and developing high-quality people, making more effective use of technology, data and knowledge, and by being an exemplar organisation – holding the NAO to the high standards that it expects from public bodies.

Changes that the NAO plans to make to achieve its strategy include developing deeper insights from financial audit work, making better use of the knowledge held within the NAO, focusing more on long-term value for money, strengthening its focus on emerging and topical issues, and enhancing its expertise in the skills that are a priority for government.

A key theme running through the strategy is how to make greater use of data analytics to deliver high-quality audits, providing assurance that public resources are accounted for accurately and used as intended. By doing so the NAO intends to provide Parliament with the detail needed to hold the government to account, as well as providing those being audited with the assurance they need.

The strategy seeks to address a criticism that has been levied at the NAO that it has not always been very good at sharing lessons learned or in making the best use of the knowledge it holds. The NAO plans to make better use of the valuable source of knowledge it has on how well public resources are used and to make it easier for policymakers to understand and apply the lessons from its insights.

Commenting on the plans Alison Ring, director for public sector at ICAEW, said: “The National Audit Office is a critical element in the UK’s system of parliamentary accountability and scrutiny. Achieving its ambition of delivering the highest quality of audits and insights as set out in its five-year strategy is important for the whole nation. 

“It is quite a challenge to make others in a large organisation aware of the knowledge that you hold, let alone make that knowledge available to others in a way that is useful and influential. The use of digital tools and good curation and archiving will be key to getting this right.

“High-quality audits are even more important given the scale of COVID-related transactions and the need to provide long term post-pandemic assurance. With the demand being placed on the audit profession to improve by a combination of the Kingman and Brydon reviews, the NAO will be in a queue of organisations seeking to attract high-quality audit professionals – it needs to attract the best if it is to provide comprehensive scrutiny of government that we all want to see.”