Andrew is an audit manager in the National Audit Office's Local Audit Code and Guidance team.
His team maintains the Code of Audit Practice that sets out how auditors meet their responsibilities for the audit of local government, and issues guidance to help them in that.
Andrew started his career as a trainee auditor at District Audit, which is where he began his CIPFA training, before moving to the Audit Commission and then the National Audit Office (NAO).
What led you to want to work in the public sector?
The idea of working in the public sector always appealed to me, and from the outset of my career I was interested in ensuring that public money is properly accounted for and well spent, so that the sector can deliver as much value for money as possible. Going into local authorities and hospitals and seeing if we could help them spend their money more effectively and get better value for money seemed a more worthwhile thing to do than auditing the balance sheet of a company.
When I started training with CIPFA, it quickly became apparent to me that it was the right thing to do. I really liked the focus on the public sector peculiarities of finance and accounting, because there's a lot that's unique to the public sector.
When I talk to accountants or auditors who have been drawn into local audit work, I often notice how well those of us who did the CIPFA qualification understand how a local authority set of accounts is put together. I think the fact that there is an accountancy institute focused on public sector accounting is particularly important.
What have been the highlights in your career so far?
I was involved in an NAO study, published in 2019, about local auditor reporting that summarised issues local auditors were reporting in their work. It was the subject of a Public Accounts Committee evidence session, and I got to go to the House of Commons and participate, which was quite exciting. The session pulled out some interesting comments about how auditors' work is interpreted and understood, how accessible it is (or isn't), and how easy it is for people to find what the auditors reported.
Recently I've also been involved in the development of the new Code of Audit Practice. When I first joined as a trainee, my manager sat me down with a copy of the Code of Audit Practice and told me it was one of the most important documents for local auditors. I never thought that I'd actually end up writing part of one of the codes!
What would you say are the particular challenges in public sector finance?
I think one of the difficulties in public sector finance is that often the situations that affect local bodies come out of government policy decisions. Bodies have to adapt and react – they might not be able to spend or invest the money the way that they want to. You have to try and keep on top of continual change, because chances are next year there could be something different.
How has being a CIPFA member supported you in your career so far?
CIPFA has supported me by providing me with knowledge that in turn has built my confidence. Occasionally as an auditor you have a difference of opinion with the director of finance about how something should be classified or treated. Before I started working in public audit, I'd feel quite nervous about having those sorts of discussions.
I found that once I'd done my CIPFA training and was qualified, I felt more confident to challenge a decision if I did think that something hadn't been accounted for correctly. I could have that discussion because I thought, I'm a qualified accountant – I do know what I'm talking about.
There's also a network of people who I got to know back when I was a trainee – people who I know I can go to at any time with a problem I may be thinking over, because we've known each other for over 20 years.
What advice would you give people starting out in a public finance career?
The world is a difficult place at the moment, and so it's even more important that money is being properly accounted for and used as well as it can be – because it needs to go a long way. It could appear that there's a lot of uncertainty in the public sector, but don't let that uncertainty put you off, because local public finance or audit is a really important place to be.
The country needs people that are committed to public service, and I think audit is a really key part of how public money is accounted for. So if public services and public finance are important to you then stick with it – and what you'll learn through your CIPFA training will stand you in good stead.