Monday 19 February 2018

State spending watchdog warned of staff shortages

Robert Watt was told of the staff shortages in a letter in May of last year.
Robert Watt was told of the staff shortages in a letter in May of last year.
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

The state's public spending watchdog warned the Department of Public Expenditure last year that it was so badly resourced, it could progress less than a tenth of the reporting topics it had identified, the Irish Independent has learned.

In a submission to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), the Comptroller and Auditor General's office said its staff numbers had fallen by 14pc since 2008, with the number assigned to reporting work falling by more than 40pc.

The C&AG's office gives opinions on the financial accounts of state bodies, but also reports on matters relating to value for money and the administration of public funds.

In documents released under Freedom of Information, the C&AG's office pointed out that as its financial audit remit is statutorily mandated and subject to international standards the reporting side of its remit had been worst hit by the staff cuts.

In a letter to DPER secretary general Robert Watt in May of last year, the C&AG's office said its ability to do its reporting work had been "severely constrained".

"The office has identified over 130 potential reporting topics which warrant consideration as matters that might require additional examination outside of the financial audit frame. With current resources, less than one-tenth of potential topics can be progressed," the letter to Mr Watt read.

"Resourcing levels are such that the office's ability to highlight issues regarding effectiveness, efficiency and economy is severely constrained."

The office said the number of reports that it was producing had fallen since 2008, with 43 produced that year and 55 produced in 2009. But the figure had fallen to 30 by 2013.

The C&AG's office also pointed out that the overall cost of the Office and staff numbers was "much lower" than those in comparable offices in European countries.

It requested an extra four senior staff, and six auditors or trainee auditors, estimating the cost at €640,000.

The Department responded by suggesting the C&AG's office should look to expand its outsourcing provisions to free up resources to work on the reporting programme.


But the C&AG's office replied that such a move would require a budget increase anyway, and that its preferred approach was to use in-house resources.

The C&AG's office also highlighted the number of end-of-year audit arrears had doubled since 2011, prompting DPER to provide funding totalling €320,000 towards extra staff.

In a statement to the Irish Independent, the C&AG's office said that following the correspondence with DPER, additional funding of €760,000 was provided for this year.

"The funding was provided to increase the numbers involved in reporting work and to enable the timeliness of audit certification to be brought forward. Overall the numbers employed will increase by 14 to 164," the body said.

It said there was a lead-in time between resources being increased and reporting output due to the time needed to recruit and train staff.

"However, when all the additional resources are in place, they will allow for a greater number of reporting topics to be examined. In the event that additional resourcing requirements are identified, the Office will make DPER aware of this."

Irish Independent

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