News from the CIPFA in Wales conference Heads endorse audit bodies merger

27 Nov 03
Plans for the Audit Commission and National Audit Office to merge in Wales have been enthusiastically supported by the heads of the two watchdogs.

28 November 2003

Plans for the Audit Commission and National Audit Office to merge in Wales have been enthusiastically supported by the heads of the two watchdogs.

Speaking at the third annual CIPFA in Wales conference in Flintshire, Clive Grace and Sir John Bourn dismissed fears of 'takeovers' and threats to independence. They put forward a united front, outlining the clear advantages of having a 'consolidated' approach to audit.

Grace, director general of the Audit Commission in Wales, said the merger would be an 'extraordinary opportunity' for both bodies. 'It will give us the most modern and progressive external review regime in the UK,' he claimed.

A consolidated approach to auditing the health service and local and central government already applies in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but Wales and England have retained the dual system.

In Wales, at least, this will change in 2005 with the creation of the Wales Audit Office.

Bourn, the auditor general for Wales, said there was a 'real need to change'. He said that it was 'odd' for a country of 3 million people to have two audit offices overseeing the health service.

'A single Wales Audit Office will benefit the public sector in Wales and also the whole community and society. It will enable greater focus on service delivery and co-operation,' he added.

But Bourn warned in unusually strong terms that the merger should not go ahead in a spirit of excessive cost-cutting.

'Of course, there isn't unlimited money and we must do it in a way that minimises the cost, but we must not do it in such a cheese-paring way that we end up with an abortion of what we could and should have had,' he told delegates.

l It is unlikely that the Audit Commission in Wales will carry out an investigation into high council tax rises in the same way as its English counterpart.

Grace told delegates that there had been 'initial conversations' about such an exercise, but added (to laughter): 'If councils up and down the length of Wales collectively ask the commission to look at this issue, we will consider that request very seriously.'

Public sector needs young blood, says minister

Younger people need to be encouraged into the public sector in Wales if it is to become a modern and effective deliverer of services, the minister for finance, local government and public services told the conference.

Sue Essex said that children did not see working in the public services as a positive career

move. 'This is because of years of being told by the media and certain politicians that if you were in the public sector. you are somehow inferior. Rubbish. Absolute rubbish,' she said.

Essex courted controversy earlier this year when she proposed the payment of past service awards or 'golden goodbyes' to older councillors in Wales who agree to stand down. The proposal has divided Wales and led to accusations of ageism.

The minister also told delegates that more secondments were needed and that barriers between the public and private sectors needed to be broken down.

NHS needs fresh look at working practices

Traditional ways of working need to be challenged in the Welsh NHS if it is to address the principality's huge health care problems, delegates were warned.

Christine Daws, director of NHS Finance in Wales, told the conference that urgent efforts were needed to restructure the workforce. More flexible working was crucial, including extended roles for nurses and greater use of physician assistants and emergency care practitioners.

'Services should be provided by the professional or the support worker best able to deliver those services, not necessarily those who have traditionally done so,' she said.

The report earlier this year by Derek Wanless on Welsh health care showed the extent of the problem, Daws suggested. The Welsh Assembly spends more on health per head of population than in England but its services appear significantly worse.

She added that vacancy rates in the Welsh NHS were often far higher than those in other parts of the UK. 'This means… that conventional ways of working and delivering health care are in need of radical change.'


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