Six questions with Andrea Reeves, Assistant Auditor-General, Local Government

In our latest Six Questions interview, we meet Assistant Auditor-General Andrea Reeves, who leads our Local Government Group.

Andrea ReevesAndrea Reeves grew up in rural West Otago. She studied accounting at University of Otago before joining Audit New Zealand as an auditor. Nowadays, Andrea leads the Office's Local Government Group, working with New Zealand’s 78 local authorities and their associated organisations, as well as public organisations in the energy and environment sectors.

What was your first job in the public sector?

My entire career has been with Office of the Auditor-General. I started in 2000 at Audit New Zealand as an auditor in our Christchurch office. I also worked in the Dunedin and Wellington offices, becoming an audit manager during this time. An opportunity came up, as a sector manager in the Office’s Local Government Group. From here, I went on to lead the team. My career was a bit accidental, in that respect – each time I’ve been looking to take on a more challenging role, another appealing role at the Office has become available. The Office is an organisation with values I resonate really strongly with.

How do you think the public sector has changed most since then?

When you look at the public sector now, we’re facing so many wicked problems: demographic changes, aging population, increasing urbanisation, the impact of tourism, and the impact of climate change and what that is doing to our coastlines and infrastructure.

The public sector has always faced complex issues – but things seem to be getting more and more challenging, and there’s a need for a system-wide response from the public sector. The siloed approach taken by many public entities in the past isn’t fit for purpose to get the outcomes New Zealanders expect and need.

How did you come into your particular field of expertise?

I’d always wanted to do accountancy; this has been my entire career path. When I was looking for a role as a graduate, I was really drawn to Audit New Zealand. Their recruitment process was unique – I got a strong sense of the organisation’s personality and values through that.

Although auditing was a completely different world, it had a lot of similarities to my experiences growing up – working in shearing sheds, or picking fruit – in that it’s hard work and very team based. Everyone has a role to play, and has to carry this out to support the team to deliver the outcome.

What’s something you have worked on during your time in the Office that stands out?

The work that we did following the Canterbury earthquake in 2010. The response had been handled well, but we found it really hard to get a picture of who was doing what during the recovery and rebuild. And, if it was confusing to us, how about the people at the centre of this who were suffering a level of trauma, who may have been displaced and were trying to rebuild their lives?

We set out our observations in a report about the roles and responsibilities of various public entities after the earthquake. In doing so, we put those affected in the centre, and tried to map out who was doing what from this. Looking back seven years later, it was really about unpicking what was happening in practice, compared with the simplicity that could have been.

This has been really valuable to start more conversations about how we can make things simpler, faster, and better for people affected by disasters and emergencies in the future.

What’s your favourite thing about working for the Office?

Everyone is here to help the public sector improve. Everyone brings that ethos to work, every day. We’ve all come from so many diverse backgrounds, and my colleagues have so much intellect and skill right across the office. I also get to meet people who are incredibly passionate about their communities. People in local government are there because they want to make a difference for the people in their communities – the Mayors and elected members, and the staff at local councils and authorities.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing the public sector?

Working together to deliver shared outcomes. Methods for accountability, roles, and responsibilities tend to be based at an organisation level, rather than at an outcome level. The desired end-state isn’t necessarily known, or consistent, across the public sector for many of the outcomes we’re working towards. We don’t necessarily have the data on how we’re going to measure those things as well. Working with this level of ambiguity is a challenge.

Read our previous Six Questions interview with John Ryan, Controller and Auditor-General.

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