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From PwC to public service: Lynn Pamment CBE

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 17 Apr 2024

The former PwC partner and now Jersey’s Comptroller and Auditor General on why tackling the local audit crisis hinges on audit firm leaders valuing the public sector audit discipline better.

For someone who’s motivation for their current roles was to take a step back from corporate life and ‘semi-retire’, Lynn Pamment’s portfolio career doesn’t leave an awful lot of time for crosswords. 

Pamment joined the Jersey Audit Office as Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) on 1 January 2020 following a 31-year stint at PwC, latterly as Partner in the firm’s Government and Public Sector Assurance practice and the Senior Partner for the Cardiff Office. “I loved my time at PwC,” she explains. “I loved the whole culture and the organisation and I always said I was going to stay there as long as I was enjoying it and learning something.” 

But having lost both her parents by their early 60s, Pamment says turning 50 in 2018 marked a turning point in her career and a desire to set out on a different trail. The headhunter’s call for the Jersey job couldn’t have been more timely. 

The seven-year, non-renewable appointment works out at around three-and-a-half days a week. “While I’m C&AG seven days out of seven, I’m contractually obliged to Jersey for 145 days a year. From the outset of taking that job on, I knew that I was going to have some flex about doing some other things.” 

Small island, big role

Despite its size – the island jurisdiction has a population of 109,000, even smaller than Cardiff where Pamment lives – to describe the role as a step back could hardly be further from the truth. “I can honestly say that I have used the entirety of my career’s experience so far in doing the job in Jersey.”

It’s the C&AG’s role to provide the States of Jersey with independent assurance that the public finances of Jersey are being regulated, controlled, supervised and accounted for in accordance with the law. It’s a remit that spans general corporate governance arrangements; value for money in the way resources are used; and effectiveness of internal controls.

“A requirement of the job at the time I applied was that I didn’t live in Jersey because it’s easier to show that you’re independent. I go there every two to three weeks for a couple of days, and the rest of the time I work from home. But even then, I could walk down the street in Jersey and bump into three or four people I know.”

Perhaps not surprisingly for a small island, the fruits of Pamment’s labours regularly make the local headlines. “You very quickly get used to the fact that everything you write is likely to hit the press, which is great in terms of impact. I got a taste of it when my appointment hit the local ITV News.”

Indeed, type Pamment’s name into Google and it throws up a string of largely damning stories about use of public funds – from the millions of pounds being wasted on a hospital project or a public sector computer system that has gone awry. Pamment says pressure to demonstrate good use of public funds has ramped us against a backdrop of public finances under increasing pressure, particularly since the pandemic.

“The enormous amounts of money that had to be put into the economy and into the healthcare systems then created a challenge coming out of COVID-19 for demonstrating efficiency and effectiveness of spend. Jersey hasn’t had the same squeeze on public spending that we’ve seen in the UK. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a demand for more effective use of funding. That puts the onus on us to make sensible recommendations that don’t cost more money.” 

Financial reporting focus

A pragmatist at heart, Pamment is also a self-professed financial reporting geek, having previously headed up PwC’s public sector technical unit and chaired CIPFA’s local government reporting board (CIPFA LASAAC). In June 2019 she was appointed as Chair of the Financial Reporting Advisory Board (FRAB), which advises the Treasury on financial reporting policy and standards. It’s a role that resulted in Pamment being awarded a CBE for Public Service in the King’s 2024 New Year Honours List.

“I am passionate about financial reporting and how we make that world class in the UK,” she says. The decision from 2009/10 to implement private sector IFRS standards and adapt and interpret them for the public sector hasn’t been without its challenges. “We’ve had some big standards to think about – revenue and leasing, for example. There have also been challenges around timely reporting in the public sector.”

‘Challenges’ is an understatement of the scale of the problem; only 1% of English councils published audited financial statements by the 30 September 2023 target date for 2022/23 financial statements. As of 31 December 2023, there was a backlog of 771 overdue audits. The pandemic is only partly to blame for the situation, Pamment says, and a breakdown in the audit market is another factor. 

We need audit firm leaders to value the public sector audit discipline better, Pamment says, and a race to the bottom on price in the public sector audit market hasn’t helped. “I suspect the relative profitability of public sector audit work compared to other sectors means that it can be the poor relation. If you are ambitious, you may not be pushed in that direction.”

Financial reporting requirements are certainly part of the solution, she believes. “We are supportive of getting the backlog cleared and have given some leniency to certain provisions to try and help that. But maintaining quality is important. Do we risk compromising standards in Scotland and Wales, for example, to deal with an England-only problem?” 

Sporting interests

It’s not a problem that will be resolved any time soon. In the meantime, Pamment has plenty to keep her occupied professionally; she became a non-executive director of Swansea Building Society in January this year and since July 2019 has been Chair of the Welsh Sports Association (WSA), the membership body for the sport and leisure industry in Wales. 

In addition to delivering shared services to members, the organisation recently launched the Welsh Sports Foundation, a charity setting out to remove the financial barriers for children participating in sport. “It’s lovely to give back because I’m passionate about everyone getting a bit more mobile.”

The organisation boasts some impressive names from professional sport in Wales, including Geraint John, Community Director at the Welsh Rugby Union; Jonathan Ford, former CEO of the Football Association of Wales; and Fergus Feeney, CEO of Swim Wales. Former para-athlete Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, now Chair of Sport Wales, delivered the keynote at the WSA’s last AGM. 

“Occasionally I find myself thinking, ‘I’m lucky if I get to the gym a couple of times a week. What am I doing here?’ Then I remind myself they didn’t want me to come on to the board because I was good at sport!”

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