How we determine our work programme

Draft annual plan 2023/24.

Our strategic direction provides the context for our work

The Auditor-General’s strategic intentions to 2028 provides the strategic context for our 2023/24 draft annual plan.

Our vision is a high-performing and accountable public sector. The ultimate outcome we seek is for Parliament and New Zealanders to have trust and confidence in the public sector (see our performance framework below).

Performance framework

Our strategic intentions document describes what we will focus on in the next five years to help achieve our long-term outcomes. It sets out what we will do differently to achieve the change we want to see after five years.

Our proposed work programme is based on these strategic priorities:

  • strengthening our core assurance role;
  • increasing our impact with public organisations;
  • enhancing our impact in te ao Māori; and
  • building on our reputation as a source of trusted information.

We draw on what we already know

As the auditor of every public organisation, our role allows us to consider performance and accountability matters for the whole public sector. We regularly assess the issues, risks, and opportunities we see throughout the public sector. This assessment draws on the information our auditors and sector managers gather, our monitoring of risks, and our independent analysis of public sector performance and associated issues.

We also draw on our previous work and knowledge – reports we have published (including inquiries, research reports, and the results of recent audits) and information from our follow-up reports on how public organisations have implemented our recommendations.

Our central and local government advisory groups help us better understand the common themes and issues in their sectors. Our discussions with select committees and members of Parliament are also important sources of information.

We use all this information to help determine what work to include in our draft annual plan. The work that we intend to do is based on what we currently know. If new information or risks come to light, we might decide to change some of our planned work.

We incorporate the views of the public into our discretionary work

We carry out a regular survey of the public to ask about the issues they would like us to look at. In our first survey, we asked for feedback on a range of topics to get a sense of what New Zealanders thought would be helpful to include in our work programme.

In 2022, that survey largely confirmed the areas of focus we had already included in our plan. We did, however, add a performance audit focused on the Government’s progress in reducing child poverty.

In this year’s survey, we asked for feedback on specific topics relevant to our strategy. We asked the public what they thought were the most important topics for us to focus on when thinking about:

  • the way in which the government agencies keep New Zealanders informed about how they are performing;
  • what value is delivered for the money the public sector spends;
  • whether the public sector acts with integrity; and
  • how well government agencies are preparing for the future.

Survey respondents told us that they were interested in hearing from government agencies about how the work they do improves the lives of New Zealanders (63% of survey respondents ranked this topic in their top three when asked about the way in which government agencies keep New Zealanders informed about how they are performing). They were also interested in how well government agencies work together to improve outcomes (56% ranked this in their top three) and how efficient the public sector was in delivering services (54% ranked this in their top three).

Our survey indicated that the public has a strong interest in the work the government is doing on maintaining and upgrading infrastructure. They were concerned both about value for money (70% ranked infrastructure in their top three when asked about value for money), but also making sure essential services, like electricity and communications networks and water assets, were resilient (70% ranked this in their top three when asked about planning for the future).

Survey respondents also told us that they think we should focus on how well agencies are planning to ensure that there are enough workers in the education and health sectors to make sure those services are able to meet the needs of New Zealanders (66% ranked this in their top three when asked about planning for the future).

There was also considerable interest in the value for money of crime prevention initiatives (52% ranked this in their top three when asked about value for money).

When we asked about the integrity of government agencies, most survey respondents said they felt the Auditor-General should focus on preventing the misuse of public money (71% ranked this in their top three), but also encouraging government agencies to be more transparent (67% ranked this in their top three).

When asked if there were other topics of interest in each of the four performance areas we asked about, the cost of living was a feature in all four.

The survey broadly confirms the topics we have included in our draft annual plan. However, we plan to include a further topic in response to the survey. This could be on infrastructure or on public sector work force planning. We welcome your feedback on these options.

The survey is a useful way to check whether our work programme includes topics that New Zealanders are interested in. We will continue to consider ways we can collect views from the public to inform our work.

And we consider what’s changing

Global economic cycles and other external factors affecting the economy continue to affect communities. Climate change and adverse weather conditions also test the resilience of communities. The clean-up and rebuilding after some of these events can take months or years to complete. There will be public interest in how local and central government tackle this difficult challenge. Preparing for the next natural disaster at either a local or national level continues to put pressure on emergency management resources. Also, historical under-investment in infrastructure is continuing to result in highly visible asset failures and service disruptions.

High-trust policies, new policies prepared at speed, and urgent and high-value procurement processes all come with risks to probity and can raise questions about the integrity of processes and value for money. Mitigation of these risks depends on good-quality decision-making, a focus on value for money, processes that have integrity, and effective monitoring and reporting practices.

Many of the challenges facing New Zealand require a continued focus over a long period. It is important for public organisations to take a long-term view. This will require high-quality data and information to inform planning and decision-making that will have better long-term outcomes for New Zealand.

Operating with integrity is fundamental to maintaining trust and confidence in public organisations. In 2022, we published an integrity framework to help public sector leaders and governors take a whole-of-organisation approach to building a culture of integrity. We will continue to focus on integrity in the public sector in 2023/24 and beyond.

Central and local government spend more than $170 billion of public money each year. Parliament and the public expect value for money and meaningful information to hold Government at all levels to account for its spending.

The public has a right to know what is being achieved with the taxes and rates they pay. Relevance and transparency of performance information, and the way in which public organisations report on their performance, are important. It should be easy for the public to find out what services are being delivered, at what cost, and the difference that is being made to the lives of New Zealanders.

Misinformation threatens to undermine the public’s trust in the public sector and in Government. The importance of public organisations reporting on their performance in ways that are relevant, timely, and understandable, to allow Parliament and the public to hold them to account, has never been more apparent.

We remain interested in the reforms that are currently under way in different parts of the public sector. These reforms are individually and collectively significant, and there are risks associated with this scale of change. Strong governance and accountability arrangements are needed to ensure that the reform processes manage the increased risks associated with financial management, probity, loss of capability, and the cumulative effects of several reforms happening at once. We will also be interested to know over time whether the reforms are delivering on what they were designed to do.

We published research in 2022 that explored Māori perspectives on public accountability. The public sector is focused on building capability to support the Crown’s relationships with Māori. The Crown also has commitments arising from Treaty settlements that need to be honoured.

There continue to be disparities in the quality and provision of public services. We are interested in whether specific strategies and programmes are reducing these inequities and improving outcomes.