Decision on extra pay increase ‘was the hardest call this year’, National Audit Office chief says

Cost-of-living crisis and audit reform are biggest challenges to come this year, says Gareth Davies – who also recalls challenging days working as a postie at Christmas
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By CSW

28 Dec 2022

What has been your highlight of the last 12 months? 

For some time we’ve been planning an annual event allowing me to set out the main themes from our audit and value for money work, only to be frustrated by pandemic restrictions. We were able to go ahead this year and in December I spoke in Parliament about three big lessons from our work on Covid-19: restoring basic standards in public accountability; the importance of good quality data in targeting interventions; and improving resilience so that future emergencies are less disruptive and costly. 

What was your most difficult decision in 2022? 

Many of our audits require careful judgements about what to include in the public report – weighing up arguments about commercial confidentiality against the presumption of public disclosure. But the hardest call this year was on a management issue – unusually agreeing a further small pay increase for lower paid staff half-way through the year to try to stem the higher than expected turnover in those grades, funded by the underspend on the payroll budget. 

What is the biggest challenge facing your organisation in 2023, and how will you meet that challenge as an organisation? 

We’re managing a lot of change in our financial audit work in 2023. It’s a critical year in our audit transformation programme as we are applying our new risk assessment methodology on all audits for the first time. At the same time, we will be bringing more audits back onto their pre-pandemic timetable. And finally, we’re driving up audit quality in response to recommendations from the audit regulator, the Financial Reporting Council. 

“Our staff are experiencing the toughest cost of living increases in many years. Doing my very best to help them through this period is a big issue for me as leader of the organisation.” 

And personally, as a leader? 

As in every other organisation in the country, our staff are experiencing the toughest cost of living increases in many years. Doing my very best to help them through this period is a big issue for me as leader of the organisation. 

It's not only Santa who has to work at Christmas. What is your best, worst or weirdest experience of working in the festive season? 

Like many of my generation, I spent some of my university Christmas holidays working as a temporary postie. We were tolerated by our full-time colleagues, at least until a bundle of Christmas cards fell out of my postbag on the bus to my round. I came back to the sorting office to find it waiting for me, together with dire predictions of the length of the prison sentence awaiting me for losing the Queen’s post. It was also vital to politely decline the sherries offered by kindly elderly ladies as you handed over their Christmas cards. 

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