Internal Audit: Nose to the Grindstone or Looking Ahead?


Diana Melville, Governance Advisor, CIPFA

Internal auditors in the public services have no lack of choice when it comes to planning where best to provide assurance! In fact heads of internal audit usually have to make some difficult decisions, balancing key areas of risk across the organisation. Ultimately the head of audit needs to feel confident of their ability to provide the annual opinion on governance, risk management and controls and also to ensure that internal audit is fulfilling its professional mission to enhance and protect organisational value.

Keeping up with new guidance and the changing risks impacting on the organisation is always a challenge for the internal auditor, but it is essential that they do if internal audit are to provide assurance on areas of strategic risk and provide valuable insight. An audit that tells the client what they already know has value, it’s assurance after all, but how much better if internal audit also helps to test out assumptions, share learning and make practical suggestions for improvement. For the internal auditor it also makes for a more satisfying job.

Whilst nobody will probably disagree that this is a good thing, in practice there can be barriers to it happening. How many times have you thought one of the following or heard it from colleagues?

  • "We don’t have the time to cover that."
  • "We’re spread too thinly as it is, we can only hope to cover the basics."
  • "I wouldn’t feel confident."
  • "Training means too much time out of the office."

All this might very well be true but cutting back internal audit assurance to the bare essentials is ultimately unsatisfactory for both the internal audit professional and the client organisation. It is unsustainable. If internal audit noses are too close to the grindstone they won’t be able to pick up on new risks, new ideas or shifting priorities. They will be too slow to react and they won’t be able to enhance and protect organisational value as they should. Sometimes they need to look ahead.

CIPFA’s Summer Internal Audit Update will help shed some light on the challenges facing the public services, with a keynote session from public services expert Professor Tony Travers. It will also feature the work of the CIPFA Brexit Advisory Commission and look at the risks and successes of shifting delivery of public services to arms-length organisations. Together with practical examples of strategic internal audit in action the Summer Update will support internal auditors to look ahead more confidently and take back new ideas and understanding to add value to their audit work.

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