Auditor-General's introduction

Reflections from our audits: Our future needs - is the public sector ready?

Early in my term as Auditor-General, I asked my Office to do something that had not been done before in public sector auditing in New Zealand.

I asked my staff, my contracted audit service providers, and some external interested parties to come up with a theme that we could apply throughout an entire year of audits.

This was not a small request. Every year, my Office audits every one of the country's 4000 or so public entities and carries out many in-depth audits, studies, and inquiries into the public sector. We report on all of this work throughout the year to provide assurance to public entities, Parliament, and the public that public money is being used wisely and as intended. In central government, public expenditure amounts to more than $86 billion a year.

The volume of audits, types of public entities, and nature of public entities' activities vary hugely. From the largest government department to the smallest local authority to the most remote school board of trustees, our public sector touches every aspect of our lives – social, environmental, and economic.

How could one theme be applied to all of this? And how could it add value?

I am proud that my Office has not only risen to the challenge but exceeded my expectations.

For the year 2012/13, I adopted the theme: Our future needs – is the public sector ready? The theme reflected a widespread recognition that public services must change and adapt to help build the future we want and to meet new challenges.

We drew our observations for this report from our audit work and reports published during the 18 months from June 2012 to December 2013. We applied the theme to some degree in all of our work throughout 2012/13. We did not set out to provide a definitive "yes or no" answer to the question or to slavishly focus on one aspect of public sector performance. Instead, we used the theme to encourage debate, challenge and expand thinking inside and outside our organisation and in the public sector, and identify and highlight examples of good or poor practice to help everyone improve.

Our observations show the value of applying a theme on top of our usual comprehensive body of auditing work. It is another way that the Auditor-General's unique view of the entire public sector can be used to add relevant comment and objectivity to improving the performance of, and the public's trust in, the public sector.

The exercise of applying this theme has stretched and challenged my staff. They have responded in typical fashion – by helping me to also choose new themes for future years.

The proposed themes are:

  • 2013/14 – Service delivery (under way);
  • 2014/15 – Governance and accountability;
  • 2015/16 – Investment and asset management; and
  • 2016/17 – Information (focus to be determined).

More information about our proposed work on these themes will be set out in our 2014/15 Annual Plan. By identifying themes in advance, I hope to focus the public sector's attention on strengthening these aspects.

The specific programme of work for each year will be drawn up in keeping with my responsibilities under the Public Audit Act 2001 and the Public Finance Act 1989, which include consulting Parliament and other stakeholders. I intend to create opportunities for greater public engagement and involvement in our work in future.

Our 2012/13 theme does not end here. I am keen to continue to explore the observations raised in this report because of the importance of the question we have posed about the public sector's readiness for the future and the certainty of more change.

I invite your comments and feedback – online at or in writing to or PO Box 3928, Wellington 6140. If you would like me to visit your organisation or group to talk about this work, please email or phone 04-917 1500.

Signature - LP

Lyn Provost
Controller and Auditor-General

22 May 2014

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