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Public Sector Auditing: Is it Value for Money?


Drawing on 20 years of experience as Comptroller and Auditor General, and head of the United Kingdom National Audit Office, Public Sector Auditing: Is it Value for Money? is Sir John Bourn’s own account of the role and influence value for money auditing has in holding governments to account and in helping public bodies improve the ways in which they deliver services.

Key features include:

  • In-depth case studies from UK, US, Canada, China, India and Australia;
  • Detailed analysis of complex areas of public expenditure such as health, education, privatisation, regulation, defence and IT;
  • Examples of how auditing can promote positive outcomes rather than negative post mortems.

This book is relevant for people working in both the public and private sectors, and should be essential reading for the staff of public sector audit institutions around the world, as well as commercial accountancy firms and students of accountancy, politics, economics and public management.

Sir John Bourn is the Comptroller and Auditor General of the United Kingdom and head of the National Audit Office. He, and the National Audit Office, are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all UK Government Departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies use their resources.
In March 2006, Sir John was appointed by the Prime Minister as the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests.
Sir John is a member of the Financial Reporting Council. He is also Chairman of the Council’s Professional Oversight Board and a member of the Financial Reporting Review Panel.
Sir John is a visiting Professor at the London School of Economics and an Honorary Fellow of the University of Brighton and the London School of Economics. He is also a Companion of the Institute of Management and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply.
Sir John is Chairman of the Multilateral Audit Advisory Group of the World Bank and a member of the United Nations Panel of External Auditors and the Governing Board of the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions.


1 Introduction.

1.1 Modern Public Administration.

1.2 The Traditions of State Audit.

1.3 The Contents and Argument of this Book.

2 Why Bureaucracy Will Never Work.

2.1 Public Programmes are Often Late, Cost More than Planned and do not Work as Intended.

2.2 The Causes of Public Programme Failure.

2.3 Bureaucracy’s Fundamental Flaw.

2.4 Literary Insights.

2.5 Wider Problems with Bureaucracy.

2.6 The Flaws of Bureaucracy have been Reinforced by Traditional Audit.

2.7 Summary.

3 The Failure to Analyse Outcomes.

3.1 How is Value for Money to be Secured?

3.2 Traditional Outputs are Valuable but Cannot Demonstrate Value for Money.

3.3 Public Choice.

3.4 Cost Benefit Analysis and Cost Effectiveness Analysis.

3.5 Value for Money Auditing.

3.6 Greater Focus on Outcomes.

3.7 More Sophisticated Diagnostic and Analytical Techniques.

3.8 Summary.

4 How Effective Audit can be Secured – the Auditor as Soach and Mentor Rather than Critic and Nark.

4.1 How can Progress be Made?

4.2 Separate Methodologies for Separate Subjects.

4.3 The Meanings which Participants give to their Roles.

4.4 Understanding ‘Accountability’.

4.5 The Relevance of Social Anthropology.

4.6 The Auditor as Coach and Mentor.

4.7 Conclusion.

4.8 Summary.

5 Privatisation – The Alternative to Bureaucracy?

5.1 Private and Public Sector Approaches Compared.

5.2 Getting the Best from Privatisation.

5.3 The Privatisation Process – the General Issues.

5.4 Getting the Best from Privatisation.

5.5 The Importance of having the Right Pre-conditions in Place to Maximise the Success of Privatisation.

5.6 Conclusion.

5.7 Summary.

6 Public Private Partnerships—Another Option.

6.1 Getting the Best from PFI/PPP Deals.

6.2 Selecting the Best Project.

6.3 Applying the Proper Processes to PPP/PFI.

6.4 Selecting the Best Bid.

6.5 Checking the Deal Makes Sense.

6.6 Delivering Long Term Value for Money.

6.7 Good Practice for the Future.

6.8 Questions for the Future.

6.9 Summary.

7 Regulations—Bureaucracy’s Tentacles.

7.1 Bureaucracies Cause Regulations to Grow – for Commendable and Less Commendable Reasons.

7.2 The Costs of these Regulations are Hidden, and Quite Pernicious.

7.3 The Auditor can Help to Some Extent. . .

7.4 . . . But Society’s Addiction to Rules and Regulations Make it Hard to do.

7.5 Summary.

8 Meeting Citizens’ Needs – Quality of Public Services.

8.1 Barriers to High Quality Services.

8.2 Improving the Quality of Public Services.

8.3 The Implications for Audit.

8.4 Conclusions.

8.5 Summary.

9 Risk Averse or Risk Ignorant?

9.1 Risk Ignorance and Bureaucracy.

9.2 The Application of Technology.

9.3 Human Behaviour.

9.4 Asymmetry of Information.

9.5 Agency Interdependence.

9.6 The Impact of the Media.

9.7 ‘The Risk Management of Everything’.

9.8 The Requirements for Effective Risk Management – General.

9.9 Effective Risk Management – Top Level Commitment.

9.10 Effective Risk Management – Synergy through the Delivery Chain.

9.11 Effective Risk Management – Understanding and Managing Common Risks Together.

9.12 Effective Risk Management – Reliable, Timely and up to Date Information.

9.13 Effective Risk Management – Scrutiny and Challenge.

9.14 Conclusion.

9.15 Summary.

10 Vulnerability to Fraud, Theft and Corruption.

10.1 Varieties of Fraud, Theft and Corruption.

10.2 What are Fraud, Corruption and Theft?

10.3 Definition of Terms.

10.4 Crime and Punishment.

10.5 Problems Faced by the UK: Diagnosis and Cure.

10.6 Macro Weaknesses: Social Security Benefits and Tax Credits.

10.7 Micro Weaknesses: Abuse of Trust.

10.8 A Failure to Pilot: Fraud and Abandonment.

10.9 Fraud versus Corruption.

10.10 The Changing Nature of Fraud: Identity Theft, Information Technology and Organised Crime.

10.11 Conclusions.

10.12 Summary.

11 Programme and Project Management – Bureaucracies’ Weakest Link?

11.1 Bureaucracies’ Failures.

11.2 Transcending Failure.

11.3 Examining Broader Delivery Issues.

11.4 Conclusion.

11.5 Summary.

12 Performance Measurement – Clarity or Confusion?

12.1 Management by Objectives and Performance Measurements.

12.2 Performance Measurement Methodologies.

12.3 International Experience.

12.4 Experience in the United Kingdom.

12.5 The Difficulties of Determining what Interventions Secure the Desired Outcomes.

12.6 Outcome Measuring – the Influence of External Factors.

12.7 Outcome Measures: Links Between the Public, Staff and Delivery Agents.

12.8 Outcome Measures: Specification, Incentives and Accountabilities.

12.9 Outcomes Measures: Accountability.

12.10 Outcome Measures: Data Quality and Reporting.

12.11 Conclusions.

12.12 Summary.

13 Organising the Audit.

13.1 What Results do We Achieve?

13.2 Conclusion and Summary.

14 Concluding Thoughts.

14.1 Traps.

14.2 The future.

Appendix: Value for Money Methodology.

A1 The Choice of Subject.

A2 The Team.

A3 Study Process and Methodology.