My Career in an Ever Changing Internal Audit Landscape
During my early career development in the Finance Department at Dewsbury Health Authority, I was asked to spend some time working in the internal audit department. Staff working in Finance and studying for a professional qualification (there were not many at the time) were expected to spend time in audit as it provided more knowledge of the running of the hospital than just working in the Finance Department. The Team consisted of just four staff: the Head and Deputy Head of Audit, who worked across three organisations, a Senior Auditor and myself.
The main focus was on financial audits and to find problems with internal controls that could adversely affect the organisation and bring them to light. Also, before the external auditors came for their annual review, internal audit spent the year testing primarily financial controls to ensure they were operating effectively.
As my time in audit was approaching its end, the landscape for internal audit and Health Authorities was also changing. Instead of being attached to one client, we had become an Agency (West Riding Audit Agency) with five clients. Working at different clients offered variety and kept things interesting. It gave us the opportunity to see different issues and challenges from each client. The role of internal continued to change with constant changes and evolvement. Every assignment offered an opportunity to learn new skills.
For example, the introduction of 18 Controls Assurance Standards in 2000, as a response to the Turnbull report provided new areas for auditors to look at. It required NHS directors to self-assess the effectiveness of their systems of internal control and to state they had done so in the Trust’s annual report, with internal audit examining their controls assurance process.
A further example was in 2004 with the establishment of Procure 21 (Department of Health Framework). This meant that NHS organisations were able to use a construction company from the framework for hospital refurbishments or new builds without going through the OJEU procurement process. Our Audit Consortium was assigned to one of the successful organisations to undertake open book auditing. I was the lead auditor for Procure 21 until the dissolution of NHS Estates in 2006.
With the introduction of Primary Care Trusts and following a merger with Aire Valley Internal Audit Consortium to become West Yorkshire Audit Consortium, our client base increased to 35. Hence working at different clients, even on the same audits, made it more interesting as there were opportunities to benchmark and compare systems. Recently there have been significant changes in our working practices too: remote working through the internet; replacing spreadsheets with an integrated audit system that can streamline and automate our audit workflows.
I have realised that the objectives of the work of internal auditors work has not fundamentally changed over the 25 years I have been in the profession. However, the scope of the work has expanded in that the clients are seeking internal audit services outside the traditional areas of financial reporting and compliance. Providing assurance in the areas of operational risks and controls, as well as internal audit’s advisory role, continues to be an area of development. The investigation work previously carried out by the auditors is now performed by our specialist Anti-Crime Team. In recognition of these changes relationship building and communication with clients remains as vital today as it was then.
Moreover, I believe auditing encourages continuous learning. As auditors we must constantly learn new things and adjust to new situations. We navigate through different organisations and interact with different level of employees all the time, hence increasing our knowledge and experience.
I have recently experienced another merger with North Yorkshire Audit Services. We now operate as Audit Yorkshire. Instead of working in a team of four all those years ago, I am now in a team of 50 plus. This in itself is very different to my previous experiences. However, after all these years I now work in the same office that I started my audit career in, although the organisation I started with has ceased to exist!