Comment on the NAO’s ability to compete – Why NAO is second to none.

In his letter of 9 March, J Wager says the National Audit Office should leave audit to commercial firms because it is unable to recruit the best students and is not exposed to competition. He is clearly misinformed. The best students do not always choose the Big Five. Our graduate recruitment process is extensive and rigorous and our intake is excellent. Our students undertake exactly the same training as their private sector counterparts and several have won prizes. They are attracted to the NAO not only by the competitive salaries we offer, but also by the nature of the work. They also have something that money can’t buy – commitment to the public sector. The quality of our financial audit work and the calibre of people we employ to carry it out are second to none. People who choose to leave the NAO are snapped up by the private sector. People join the NAO often because the work is intrinsically more interesting. Auditing public expenditure is high profile and extremely challenging, ranging from relatively small accounts such as Vehicle Certification Agency, through the Arts Council, to the massive multibillion pound sums involved in the major departments of state. The NAO is well placed to take on this challenge. Take the Department of Social Security resource account, which is likely to be one of the largest single accounts in the western world in terms of gross expenditure. A challenge indeed, and one that requires the best people. We have put these people in place; many we employ, others we contract in. Mr Wager also argues that the NAO suffers because we are not exposed to competition. In cases where we can compete for work against the private sector we have often won. These cases aside, the competitive pressures on us may be different from those in the private sector but they are real nonetheless. In the past 10 years we’ve made massive efficiency savings and now carry out more work than ever before. We test our competitiveness too, by drawing in private sector expertise both to benchmark our own performance and keep up with the best that the private sector is doing.

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