'The last couple of years have had a science fiction feel': Gareth Davies on the NAO's Covid scrutiny and trials of remote work

2020 may have been a year like no other, but 2021 was a chip off the old block and relentless from day one. The National Audit Office boss tells us about 12 more months of dealing with Covid while pushing ahead with new challenges
HG Wells's time-machine insight would be handy, says Davies. Photo: Pixabay

By Civil Service World

03 Jan 2022


What was your highlight of 2021?

The Public Finance Awards event, hosted by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy and Public Finance magazine in September, was special for two reasons. The NAO won the award for excellence in public audit for our report on the furlough and self-employed income support schemes and was highly commended in the same category for our Covid-19 cost tracker. I was delighted that our teams’ work on the government’s pandemic response was recognised in this way. Secondly, the evening was the first chance in almost two years to catch up with old friends and colleagues from the public finance world – it felt like a giant reunion.

How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2021?

I was delighted when we were able to bring our 150 audit trainees who joined in 2020 and 2021 together in person for the first time in October. The NAO is a significant trainer of new accountants and auditors and there’s no doubt that working remotely seriously affects the training experience. 

Formal study and exams have been fine, but our trainees need to be working alongside more experienced colleagues to pick up how the job is done in practice. They also need peer support and social interaction with fellow trainees – those networks will prove valuable throughout their careers.

What is your number one priority for 2022?

We will be working closely with departmental finance teams to get back to more timely completion of high-quality audited accounts. The need to account for entirely new, risky and complex expenditure streams and balance-sheet items arising from the pandemic has necessarily delayed some annual reports and accounts this year. We aim to return to completing as many as possible before the 2022 summer parliamentary recess.

Which historical, mythical or contemporary figure would you most like to join you for a New Year’s Eve celebration?

I’d like to hear from HG Wells on what we can expect next from the 21st century. The last couple of years have had a science fiction feel to them and his imagination was more interesting than most. 

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