CIPFA conference: good governance ‘requires tough questions’

13 Jul 17

Good governance across the public sector requires people who are willing to ask tough questions, CIPFA conference delegates heard today.

Peter Welch, director of the European Court of Auditors, speaking at an afternoon workshop on governance failures, responded to a question asking why there was a “fundamental lack of understanding of role and responsibility” across the public sector.

“If we want governance to really really work we really need people who are not afraid to ask tough questions,” he said.

Panellists and the audience talked about the lack of diversity in public sector auditing.

Welch said “diversity works” to ensure there are people in organisations to ask the tough questions.

He also said it was hard to measure governance because you “can’t count” it and “because it’s about culture” but added it was “essential we do”.

“If we do [measure governance], we can get some good results,” Welch told the audience.  

Aileen Murphie, director of value for money at the National Audit Office, believed understanding of governance across the public sector “varies”.

She added: “When we are changing [the] chair on the audit committee your heart sinks – thinking ‘who are we going to get now?’ if you have a really good chair [who understands governance]."

Although, Murphie said she did believe that an understanding of good governance across the public sector was “getting better”.

Maggie Oliver, a former detective with the Greater Manchester police, also spoke at the session and said: “We as a society have to prioritise [scarce] public funds”.

She talked of her experience when she was not listened to at Greater Manchester police over the concealing of evidence, which meant a group of mainly Pakistani men did not get prosecuted for sexual offences for years. She eventually quit the force to whistleblow.

The police were one public service for which “their failures have never-ending human consequences”, Oliver told the delegates.  

The panelists agreed to aid good governance organisations needed senior members of staff to have ‘open door’ policies, so employees were free to go and make complaints.

Although, Welch warned it should not be made “too dramatic” if someone did reveal an issue.  

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