National Audit Office head Amyas Morse on 2016, Whitehall's Brexit capacity – and Bo Diddley

Written by Civil Service World on 5 December 2016 in Interview

With the end of 2016 fast approaching, we asked the UK's top officials to look back at the year, outline their goals for 2017 – and shed some light on their festive favourites. Amyas Morse, comptroller and auditor general, the National Audit Office, takes part in our annual perm secs round-up​

What was your highlight of 2016?
This year marked the 150th anniversary of the 1866 Exchequer and Audit Departments Act which established the position of Comptroller and Auditor General and the predecessor body to the National Audit Office. 

We marked this occasion with a reception at parliament attended by MPs and peers from all sides. The occasion underlined how far-sighted Gladstone, who played a guiding hand in the legislation, was. The act led to parliamentary oversight of government expenditure; a requirement for departments to produce annual reports, and it clearly underlined the independence of the C&AG and his role in reporting to parliament. 

Move forward to today and these concepts still hold true. In 2016 as well as certifying nearly 400 accounts we produced around 65 major value-for-money outputs, diligently supported around 60 evidence sessions of the Committee of Public Accounts and increased our support to other parliamentary committees. 

What has been the most significant change in your organisation this year?
Parliament and government continue to expand the work and responsibilities of the NAO and we have had to prepare to take on the audits of Network Rail and UK Asset Resolution and assume new powers for value-for-money reporting on the Bank of England. We are also planning ahead to next year when we become financial auditors of the BBC.

We are undertaking more and speedier investigations to provide parliament with timely and targeted reports on key issues as they occur, and aim to intervene early in government programmes to detect risks to be identified and remedied.

Within the NAO, we continue to increase our audit capability while cutting our costs by greater use of technology. We are in the process of implementing a new business system designed to improve our own organisational efficiency and increase knowledge sharing.

What will be the biggest challenge of 2017 – and how are you preparing to meet it?
Brexit will have a huge impact on all departments, when they are already delivering substantial change programmes with fewer resources. But even before Brexit it was clear the civil service is over-committed with an enormous major projects portfolio. Government must get much better at prioritising its activities and projects. Brexit offers a historic opportunity to manage change pro-actively across government and decide what is essential and what is not. The NAO will look to see that government has the skills, expertise and capacity in place to manage the withdrawal and establish new international agreements. 

What was the best Christmas present that you’ve ever given or received? And the worst?
Worst present I have received: a Michael Bublé album. Not my thing. A great one I received: a Bo Diddley album – such great blues!

More: Perm secs round-up 2016 – Britain's top civil servants review the year and look ahead to 2017

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