Part 5: Keeping New Zealanders informed about public sector performance and accountability

Draft annual plan 2022/23.

To have trust and confidence in the public sector, New Zealanders need to be informed about the issues that matter to them in ways that are meaningful. Our regular reporting is the main way we can keep New Zealanders informed about how the public sector is performing. In 2022/23, we will continue to carry out:

  1. research on public sector accountability to local and regional communities;
  2. reporting on sector-level performance reporting; and
  3. our regular reporting.

We intend to complete our work on understanding what information about public services New Zealanders consider relevant and important. We will also continue our work in tracking reported performance across sectors subject to significant reform such as health, three waters, and tertiary education, and intend to make this publicly available data more accessible.

1. Public sector accountability to communities

Effective public accountability is critical to maintaining the trust and confidence that the public has in government. In 2020/21, we started a multi-year programme of work to identify what information about public services a community might consider relevant and important.

Part of our work involves researching in more depth what specific communities consider important. In 2022/23, we intend to talk directly with different communities about the engagement, information, and feedback mechanisms that might help to maintain their trust and confidence in public services, and the extent to which they feel those are in place.

Proposed work: Public sector accountability to communities – research
In 2022/23 we plan to carry out research into what the public considers important to understand the performance of public services and their impacts on community outcomes. We will explore community perspectives on services and outcomes the public sector is accountable for, examine what communities want to know about public sector performance, and how they would like to access that information and engage with it.

Our research will inform our work on improving performance reporting in the public sector, as well as the issues we choose to focus on and how we present our own information about the performance of the public sector.

2. Sector-level performance reporting

To build and maintain trust and confidence in the public sector, it is important that New Zealanders understand what value they are getting from public spending. We know that the issues and questions that matter to Parliament and the public often relate to outcomes at a whole-of-society or sector level. Public organisations often work together across a sector or more broadly towards improving outcomes – such as in health, education, and transport, or outcomes for specific population groups such as for Māori, Pasifika, and disabled people.

Budget 2022 includes piloting changes to the public finance system that are focused on establishing “clusters” (for example, Natural Resources and Justice). These clusters are intended to enable public organisations to co-ordinate and collaborate, particularly on long-term objectives across sectors.7 Regardless of how the public sector is organised, the effectiveness of government spending and performance needs to be clear. The ongoing reporting requirements for these clusters will be important to ensure that there is appropriate public accountability. We will continue to track performance across sectors, including for established clusters. Our sector managers will brief select committees, where appropriate, on this.

Proposed work: Presenting a picture of sector-level performance reporting
We intend to begin work on providing Parliament and the public a better view of how well the public sector is performing at a sector level. In 2022/23, we expect to pilot this work in the transport sector, with consideration of public organisations that contribute to achieving the outcomes described in the Transport Outcomes Framework.8

We will draw on and bring together publicly available information from the transport sector and provide commentary on how well the public sector is reporting on its performance. The focus will be on assessing the quality of performance reporting that is about what progress is being made on desired outcomes and priorities, major initiatives, value for money, and the quality of services delivered. Our work will focus on identifying where there are gaps or issues in the quality of existing performance reporting as well as where the transport sector is reporting well on its performance.

The aim of this work is to enable Parliament and the public to assess how effectively and efficiently the public sector is using its resources to achieve the Government’s transport objectives.

The pilot work will inform the approach we will take on other sectors or on outcomes for society as a whole.

In 2022/23, we will also be drawing on the data published in annual reports to see what it reveals about how well public organisations involved in reforms for tertiary education, health, and three waters, are maintaining their performance during the transition periods.

Proposed work: Performance information in sectors undergoing major change
The Government is currently pursuing significant structural reforms across the public sector. This includes reforms to tertiary education, the health and disability system, and three waters service delivery.

Significant reform presents risks to performance. It is easy to underestimate the complexity, cost, and time to transition and implement reforms that can result in disruption of service and losses in productivity and capability.

We have developed and now maintain a database of performance information drawn from published annual reports of several types of public organisations. We use this information to inform the different types of work we do (such as annual review briefings we provide to Parliament’s select committees). We are looking at how we can make this data more accessible to the public by publishing it on our website.

This year, we will draw on this information to see how well public organisations involved in reforms are maintaining their performance during the transition. In time, we will see whether reforms have resulted in the performance improvements they intended.

We will identify relevant performance data published by public organisations involved in reforms and establish a baseline against which to track progress. We will use this work to inform our advice to select committees and consider publishing the findings on our website.

3. Our regular reporting

Each year, we consolidate the results of our annual audits in central and local government, and other sectors. We publish the main findings in sector reports and letters. We use these products to advise select committees, help keep the public informed, and help plan our work programme. We also report on the results of our annual audit of the financial statements of the Government. We regularly produce reports that focus on Auckland Council.

Proposed work: Sector reports
In 2022/23, we plan to prepare the following sector reports:
  • Observations from our central government audits: 2021/22.
  • Results of the 2021 school audits.
  • Results of the 2021 audits of tertiary education institutions.
  • Results of the 2021/22 district health board audits.
  • Local government: Results of the 2021/22 audits.
Proposed work: Auckland landscape scan
About 33% of New Zealand’s population live in the Auckland region. By 2043, Auckland’s population is expected to increase by 600,000. This will take the total Auckland population to 2.2 million. Auckland is diverse and home to people of more than 200 different ethnicities, with 40% of Aucklanders born overseas.

In 2019, public sector spending in Auckland was estimated to be 36% of the total public sector spending for the country. Nationally significant public sector work programmes have major policy and delivery components in Auckland. About 31% of public sector employees are based in Auckland.

Managing the infrastructure needed for Auckland’s growth is increasingly addressed through jointly funded (Crown and Auckland Council) large-scale infrastructure projects. This creates complexity in governance, accountabilities, procurement, and monitoring outcomes for these projects.

We intend to produce an Auckland landscape scan to describe the Auckland context and to integrate and align information to assess how the public sector is performing in the region.
Proposed work: Auckland Council review of service performance (topic to be confirmed)
Section 104 of the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009 requires the Auditor-General to review the service performance of Auckland Council and each of its council-controlled organisations from time to time. We are assessing possible topics for this next review.

In combination with our annual audits, we carry out appropriation audits of government departments. These are designed to check that government expenditure is within the authority provided by Parliament. We also carry out procedures for our Controller function in keeping with a Memorandum of Understanding we have with the Treasury. We report our findings and conclusions to the Treasury throughout the year in monthly Controller reports.

Every year, we present a report to Parliament that includes an account of the work carried out under our Controller function for the full financial year, along with our findings and conclusions. We also produce an interim report on our half-year findings (our work from 1 July to 31 December of each year) and various reports on matters of interest.

Proposed work: Half-year Controller update
Our Controller function is a core part of our role. It provides assurance to Parliament and the public about whether the Government has incurred expenditure in line with Parliament’s authority. We report publicly on our work.

In 2022/23, we will report our findings for 2021/22 in our report Observations from our central government audits: 2021/22. We will also continue our regular half-year Controller update, which provides an account of our work and findings for the first six months of 2022/23 and publish Controller reports on other matters of interest.

Drawing on insights from our work, including our regular reports, we also provide advice and support to Parliament and select committees to assist in their scrutiny of public organisations’ performance.

Proposed work: Advice and support to Parliament and select committees
Drawing on information and insights from our work, we provide advice and support to Parliament and select committees to assist in their scrutiny of public sector performance. This includes their annual reviews and their scrutiny of forecast spending through the Estimates of Appropriations examinations after the Government announces its Budget each year.

Last year we changed how we follow up on our performance audits. We are now following up most audits within two years of completing the audit. If an audit is considered appropriate for this type of follow-up, we write to the public organisation asking for an update on how it is progressing our recommendations from the previous performance audit. We publish the response on our website. Based on the information provided, we will decide whether further follow-up is required, including whether further substantive audit work is appropriate.

In 2022/23, we intend to follow up on progress with the recommendations for the following performance audit reports:

  • Inland Revenue Department: Procurement for the Business Transformation programme;
  • Using different processes to protect marine environments;
  • Managing freshwater quality: Challenges and opportunities;
  • Strategic suppliers: Understanding and managing the risks of service disruption; and
  • The Government’s preparedness to implement the sustainable development goals.

7: See New Zealand Government (2021), Budget Policy Statement 2022 at treasury.govt.nz.

8: See Te Anga Whakatakoto Hua mō ngā Waka – Transport Outcomes Framework at transport.govt.nz