2018 information updates recap

“Our high performing and accountable public sector” was the theme for Audit New Zealand’s 2018 central government updates. A variety of speakers from across the public sector shared their views with more than 500 attendees.

Following a mihi from Bethia Gibson (General Manager Operations), Executive Director Stephen Walker gave his thoughts on the theme. Public auditors and public servants share the same objectives, Stephen said, but have distinct roles in achieving it. The sharing of good practice was identified as an area where auditors can improve. When auditors see something is good enough, they move on to the next issue. However, they are uniquely placed to share individual examples of good practice across the public sector. Stephen also looked at how the public sector could further help auditors – including with early engagement, which is key to a successful audit.

Deputy Auditor-General Greg Schollum also talked about public performance and accountability. He posed a series of questions to the audience, including whether they saw poor behaviour – or poor performance – as more damaging to public trust and confidence. Greg discussed how one issue in particular – the Office’s report on the 2016 school audits – showed how auditors can connect with New Zealanders on issues that affect every community. Greg also outlined the four strategic shifts that the Office is making to continue fulfilling its role in the accountability system.

Amy Hamilton’s accounting update delivered some good news to attendees – there are no new accounting standards for public benefit entities ahead of 30 June this year. There are a few amendments, and some new standards to come into effect in later years, which Amy took the audience through.

Catherine Williams (Al Morrison on day 2) from the State Services Commission spoke about the SSC’s work to embed a unified “spirit of service” across the public sector. Catherine praised the sector’s qualities that makes it unique, including its impartiality and ability to provide free and frank advice – whether it’s welcome news or not. She also asked the audience to consider how to take their individual and organisational “spirit of service” and apply it to the whole sector.

Procurement is the Office’s theme for 2018/19, and we had two thought-provoking presentations on this topic.

John Ivil and Angela Xygalas, of New Zealand Government Procurement and Property at MBIE, discussed how this team is playing its part in a high performing and accountable public sector. Originally intended to save the government money during the Global Financial Crisis, the focus of procurement reform soon evolved to providing functional leadership, raising the sector’s capabilities, and in turn improving delivery of public services. The focus is increasingly on using good procurement practices to help achieve broader economic, social, and environmental outcomes.

Audit New Zealand’s Peter Davies and Martin Richardson shared some procurement-related findings from our audit work. Among other aspects, They stressed the importance of good planning, understanding and defining the requirements before starting the tender process, and doing due diligence on prospective contractors.

Melanie Webb (Assistant Auditor-General, Legal) gave an overview of conflicts of interest. Using her own life and career as a case study, Melanie showed that, in a small country such as ours, potential conflicts of interest are inevitable. Ultimately, it’s how they are managed that counts. Failing to manage a conflict of interest well damages accountability, and can have serious consequences for individuals and organisations. Melanie provided some advice based on the Office’s guide Managing conflicts of interest: Guidance for public entities.

Treasury’s annual economic update contained good news – growth looks positive for the next few years, and the unemployment rate is set to fall toward four percent. Phillip Mellor also discussed the housing market, inflation, and the global outlook. His colleague, Sam King, took the audience through Treasury’s Investment Statement and Finance Development Programme. Since 2015, Treasury has worked to improve transparency and accountability by making better performance information public as a matter of course. Sam also shared some findings on investment management, and how improving this, and fixing systemic issues, can improve the value that government gets from its asset base and investments.

The last two sessions focused on annual reporting. Felicity Caird from the Institute of Directors spoke on what stakeholders expect to see in annual reports. An organisation’s list of stakeholders is ever-growing as the operating environment becomes more complex. They are, she says, demanding more holistic reporting – not just financial results, but non-financial factors, such as service performance and sustainability information. This information is crucial to improving public’s trust in government, which Felicity suggests – based on the findings of the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer – is under threat.

Greg Taylor finished the day with some insights from Kiwirail’s integrated reporting process, which seeks to do exactly what Felicity advocated – improve the reporting of non-financial factors. One example from Kiwirail was the amount of carbon emissions saved by transporting freight by rail instead of road. Greg explained how the integrated reporting framework, being outcomes-driven, is well suited to the public sector environment – chances are, many public organisations are already using elements of integrated reporting.

These were the first of seven similar updates around the country. Each update had some core sessions along with some local flavour. Video of many of the sessions is now available to view on our YouTube channel. Please check the programme for each session for a transcript of the videos and to download the presentations.

If you would like to attend an update in 2019, please send an email to director@auditnz.govt.nz.

Last updated: 18 June 2018