Part 2: How we determine our work programme

Draft annual plan 2022/23.

Our strategic direction provides context for our work

The Auditor-General’s strategic intentions to 2025 is our long-term strategic planning document. It sets out the impacts we seek to achieve and the outcomes we are working towards. It also provides the strategic context for our Annual plan 2022/23.

Our vision is of a high-performing and an accountable public sector. The ultimate outcome we seek is that Parliament and New Zealanders have trust and confidence in the public sector, as shown in our performance framework.

Our performance framework

The Auditor-General’s strategic intentions to 2025 describes how we will build our core functions and what we will do differently to achieve our intended impacts and contribute to our stated outcomes.

Our proposed work programme is organised around four “priority areas”. These are:

  • how well the public sector is improving the lives of New Zealanders;
  • how well the public accountability system is working as a whole;
  • keeping New Zealanders informed about public sector performance and accountability; and
  • sharing insights about what “good” looks like.

We draw on what we already know

As the auditor of every public organisation in New Zealand, we have an ongoing role with every public organisation. This allows us to consider performance and accountability matters for the whole public sector. We regularly assess the issues, risks, and opportunities we see throughout the public sector. Our assessment draws on the information our auditors and sector managers gather, our monitoring of risks, and our independent analysis of public sector performance and associated risks and issues.

We also draw on our previous work and knowledge – reports we have published (including inquiries, research reports, and the results of recent audits) and information from our follow-up reports on how public organisations have implemented our recommendations.

Our central and local government advisory groups help us better understand the common themes and issues in their respective sectors. Our discussions with select committees and members of Parliament are also important sources of information.

We use all this information to help determine what work to include in our draft annual plan. The work that we intend to do is based on information we know at present. If new information or risks come to light or if the Covid-19 pandemic adversely affects our ability to carry out certain work, we might decide to change some of our planned work.

Incorporating the views of the public into our performance audit work

This year, we consulted with the public in a different way before the publication of our draft annual plan. We surveyed a nationwide sample of about 1000 New Zealanders to ask them about the “performance areas” they thought the Auditor-General should prioritise in our work programme.

The results of the survey largely confirmed the areas of focus we have included in our draft annual plan.

However, one performance area that was not in our current or proposed work programme was “reducing inequalities in New Zealand society”. Within this performance area, “child poverty” was the topic of most interest to survey respondents. In response, we have added a performance audit to our work programme that will look at the Government’s progress in reducing child poverty.

The survey we carried out was a useful way to test whether our work programme includes topics that New Zealanders are interested in. We will continue to consider ways we can collect views from New Zealanders to inform our work.

And we consider what’s changing

The public sector continues to be under significant pressure. It needs to respond to both the Covid-19 pandemic and a large reform agenda, while maintaining existing services and addressing long-term challenges. Although trust and confidence in the public sector remain high, expectations continue to increase.

programmes and projects ought to be improving the lives of New Zealanders

New Zealand’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, while generally successful, has highlighted problems with equitable access to services (such as Covid-19 vaccinations and testing for Māori, Pasifika, and disabled people). We know there are equity issues for other public services as well.

Housing supply and affordability remains a significant and complex problem. A well-functioning housing and urban development system requires multiple central and local government organisations working effectively together. We are interested in how well they are working together in planning and delivering housing infrastructure. We are also interested in the extent to which projects consider equitable access to housing for Māori and Pasifika.

Family violence and sexual violence are complex and persistent problems, despite the efforts of successive governments, government agencies, and numerous community organisations working with those who are either harmed by or are perpetrators of violence. We will continue to look at how well the Executive Board for the Elimination of Family Violence and Sexual Violence is working with the non-government sector to address this issue.

Some councils and some central government organisations are also grappling with historical under-investment in infrastructure. This has seen ongoing public attention and scrutiny as highly visible asset failures and service disruptions have occurred. Te Waihanga the New Zealand Infrastructure Commission is due to finalise the New Zealand Infrastructure Strategy Rautaki Hanganga o Aotearoa in 2022. Given its importance, we will consider how well currently planned infrastructure investments will align to this strategy. The timing of our work will become clearer after the strategy is finalised.

There are several significant reforms being proposed or implemented. These reforms are resulting in new public organisations, organisational structures, and accountability arrangements. There are risks associated with this scale of change, particularly in loss of capability, ensuring value for money, probity, and cumulative effects of several significant reforms happening at the same time. Strong governance and accountability arrangements are needed to ensure that the reform process leads to improvements in outcomes for New Zealanders.

the public accountability system needs to work as a whole

The public service is focused on building capability to support the Crown in its relationships with Māori. The Public Service Act 2020 introduced obligations for chief executives to develop and maintain the capability of the public service to engage with Māori, understand Māori perspectives, and be good employers for Māori. We are interested in how these changes are being led and implemented, how well commitments arising from te Tiriti settlements are honoured, and how well specific strategies and programmes are improving outcomes for Māori.

Sexual harassment and bullying remain workplace issues in some parts of the public sector. Several public organisations have been subject to reviews of their organisational culture in response to claims of sexual harassment and bullying. Despite genuine attempts to address the problems, reviews continue to show that efforts to reduce incidences and prevalence are not always effective.

Councils are responding to new regulatory requirements and instruments (for example, new and updated national policy statements), three waters and resource management system reforms, climate change implications, and an independent Ministerial review on the future for local government. Councils are also preparing for the next elections in October 2022.

The public sector has the challenge of adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change. The move to a zero-carbon economy will require effective leadership, governance, and accountability arrangements. The risks, strategy, and financial effects associated with addressing this challenge will need to be transparent, and climate-related reporting requirements are increasing in importance. We are considering how public organisations are reporting on their response to climate change, and our role in providing assurance over climate-related reporting, decision-making, and planning processes.

New Zealanders should be able to easily assess the public sector's performance

There are changes being made to how the public sector is organised to deliver outcomes at both a macro level (for example, with the creation of new public organisations) and at a micro level (for example, cross-agency initiatives and ventures). Regardless of how the public sector is organised, it remains important that Parliament and all New Zealanders can clearly see how effective government spending is. Improved performance reporting at the entity, sector, and, where appropriate, initiative level, as well as at an all-of-government level will be important in helping to achieve this and to allow Parliament and the public to hold the public sector to account for its performance.

Cybersecurity is becoming increasingly complex as technologies continue to evolve. There are significant risks for the public sector, including erosion of public trust and confidence, if services or infrastructure that are strategically important to New Zealanders and critical lifeline services are disrupted through cybersecurity failures. It is important that public organisations reduce their vulnerabilities and have the capability to anticipate and respond to cyber attacks.

Border restrictions have significantly affected immigration and visa processing, resulting in shortages of skilled workers traditionally brought in from overseas. However, the visa processing system had backlogs and was seeing an increase in complaints and public scrutiny before Covid-19 responses affected the border settings. As border controls change, we are interested in how well Immigration New Zealand is managing visa processing for migrants and employers who rely on migrant workers.

High-trust policies, new policies prepared at speed, and urgent and high-value procurement processes all come with risks to probity and can raise questions of process integrity and value for money. Good quality decision-making, value for money, integrity, and effective monitoring and reporting practices are important generally, but even more so when large amounts of public money are spent quickly.

New Zealand’s public service has a well-deserved reputation for integrity. However, fraud and integrity risks increase when a significant amount of new money enters the system and decisions are made at speed. Integrity failures can undermine the public’s trust in the public sector. We therefore see matters of ethics and integrity as central to trust in the public sector. We will continue to focus on how well the public sector is meeting public expectations in this area.

Together, our strategic direction, what we already know from our work, and what we see changing in the public sector help to shape our proposed work programme set out in Parts 3 to 6.