Page last updated at 05:42 GMT, Thursday, 8 October 2009 06:42 UK

Staff trust issues at watchdog

Auditor general Jeremy Colman
I wholeheartedly accept the recommendations and have already made some changes
Jeremy Colman, Auditor General

A review of the work of the Wales Audit Office has raised concerns over its structure and leadership.

An independent report on the public spending watchdog found "tensions" between senior managers and issues of trust for staff.

However, the review said the body delivered high quality work, and was seen by many as an excellent employer.

The Auditor General, Jeremy Colman, said changes were already being implemented, backed by the review.

"I wholeheartedly accept the recommendations and have already made some changes which will enable the organisation to build on its existing successes," said Mr Colman.

"This will help us provide challenge and support to public sector bodies in Wales as they face up to the challenges of the economic downturn."

The review was carried out by an international panel who began examining the watchdog's work in the spring.

It found staff were confused about the operation and cohesion of the organisation's leadership team, which has led to unhealthy "tensions" between some senior managers.

It is now at a watershed and needs to make some changes to respond to significant challenges
Caroline Gardner, peer review panel

A similar view was taken by an internal assessment by the audit office, which has a 280-strong workforce.

The review notes that the key issue "appears to be a lack of trust" , but that senior managers in the organisation already recognise these concerns.

It also describes internal "perceptions of nepotism" in terms of the allocation of specific staff to specific projects, including "so-called 'cherry picking' of staff".

"Formal processes are sometimes circumvented by informal arrangements which meet the short term needs of individual partners (senior managers)," stated the review.

"This includes so-called 'cherry picking' of staff for projects and allocation of staff without the opportunity to express an interest in the work which contributes to perceptions of nepotism and a lack of transparency."

'Positive feedback'

The report said a smaller, more coherent executive committee at the audit office could help address some of the issues, but only if its members work together at a senior level within the organisation.

Despite the criticisms, the review found that the body received consistently positive feedback from the organisations it was called in to investigate.

The panel said that many staff also believed the audit office was an excellent employer, with a high level of commitment, pride in the organisation and low levels of sickness absence.

Caroline Gardner, who chaired the review panel, said: "The Wales Audit Office has come a long way since it was established four years ago - delivering high quality work, establishing its credibility and reputation as well as dealing with the inevitable challenges of being created through a public sector merger.

"It is now at a watershed and needs to make some changes to respond to significant challenges - and I am confident that the Wales Audit Office will do just that.

She added that the fact this was the first time a UK audit body had undergone a peer review was "a measure of its commitment to improvement".

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