Auditor general Gareth Davies offers his early reflections on the role and insights into the year ahead
The annual perm secs round-up published by PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World sees Whitehall’s senior leaders open up on their biggest challenges and opportunities – as well as their remembrances of Christmases past. Here, the UK’s auditor general and head of the National Audit Office, Gareth Davies talks about his new role.
What was your highlight of 2019?
I joined the NAO in June, so my biggest professional highlight has been getting to know my new colleagues and meeting MPs, permanent secretaries and the many other people with an interest in our work. I’ve already seen the impact our work can have and the critical importance of our independent role in supporting parliamentary scrutiny. A family highlight was the arrival in October of our first grandchild.
What has been the most significant change in your organisation this year?
I’m fortunate to have inherited a talented team with a track record of high-quality work so I’ve been keen to listen and consult, internally and externally, before rushing into any significant changes. I have initiated a strategic review to ensure that the NAO continues to respond effectively to the big challenges facing parliament and government in the years ahead. We have received a great deal of insightful feedback which will help to shape the future direction of the NAO and our work, and I look forward to sharing and implementing our new strategy in 2020.
What will be the biggest challenge of 2020 – and how are you preparing to meet it?
Clearly we will need to ensure that our audit programme is relevant to whatever policy direction is set by the new government following the election. If this includes spending increases after a long period of austerity, there will be different risks to value for money and our work will need to respond accordingly. We will also need to strike the right balance between responsive work (such as on preparations for EU exit) and longer-term challenges such as the public service costs associated with an ageing population and government’s plans to meet its net zero-carbon target.
Tell us a favourite festive memory from your youth…
I remember looking forward to two things at Christmas as a child in the 1970s. There was always a Bond film on TV on Christmas Day afternoon, which in the days before multi-channel TV, DVDs and streaming was a major event. The second highlight was going to the annual rugby match between Leicester Tigers and the Barbarians, usually played on 27 December. Sadly that fixture hasn’t survived into the professional era.