Northern Ireland Audit Office Public Reporting Programme 2021 to 2023

1. Foreword

We are pleased to present our public reporting programme for 2021 to 2023

This is the NIAO’s third public reporting programme and covers 2021 to 2023. It builds on the strategic approach we adopted for the first time in 2018 but reflects a more flexible approach in our endeavours to remain agile and respond to new and emerging challenges in the public sector. 

The last year has been a particularly challenging time for the public sector in Northern Ireland as it has responded at pace to the extraordinary circumstances of COVID-19.  Navigating the complex outworking of the UK’s exit from the European Union and at the same time delivering a new Programme for Government will require strong leadership and good governance.   In this turbulent environment, high quality public audit has never been more important. 

The aim of the public reporting programme is to provide elected representatives, decision makers and citizens with information and assurance about how well public services are run and how public money is spent.

Kieran Donnelly CB, Comptroller and Auditor General

Rodney Allen, Chief Operating Officer

Colette Kane, Local Government Auditor

September 2021

2. The Context of the Programme

2.1 Our organisation

The NIAO provides the Assembly with independent assurance about the performance and accountability of the public sector, and provide insights into how well public services are being delivered.  The C&AG and his staff:

  • are totally independent of government;
  • support the Assembly and, in particular, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), in holding public bodies to account and in improving public services;
  • provide objective information, advice and assurance on how public money has been spent; and
  • encourage best practice in financial management, good governance and propriety in the conduct of public business.

The NIAO also carries out VFM audits in local government bodies where the Local Government Auditor has a statutory authority to undertake such audits.

2.2 Corporate Plan 2021-24

In March 2021, the NIAO launched its three-year Corporate Plan for the period 2021-24.  The plan sets out the NIAO’s three corporate strategic priorities:

  • Support and promote high standards in public administration and financial management in a complex dynamic environment;
  • Influence the pace and direction of public sector transformation by providing independent insight; and
  • Ensure the NIAO operates as a high performing organisation to meet emerging challenges.

2.3 Our vision, purpose and values

Vision: Inspiring confidence in public services through independent scrutiny based on impartial and innovative reporting.

Purpose: Making sure public money is spent properly.


  • Partnership (collaborative, engaging, respectful): building positive open relationships based on trust and respect as the basis for our work.
  • Authoritative (credible, professional, evidence based): diligent and exemplary in our practice, upholding the highest professional and ethical standards.
  • Curious (examining, interested, outward-looking): tenacious, inquisitive and open-minded so that we are continuously learning and improving.
  • Truthful (courageous, fearless, upfront): constructively saying what needs to be said and doing what needs to be done.

3. Development of our two-year programme 2021 to 2023

3.1 Overview

Government priorities and processes in Northern Ireland are transforming.  Publication of this programme provides our elected representatives, public sector bodies and citizens with advance notice of our public reporting programme and an opportunity to engage with, and prepare for, the audit process.  It will also provide an understanding of the NIAO’s public reporting priorities and how they reflect the priorities of the Executive.

Deciding what to audit is a key part of the independence of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG).  That said, this independence must be underpinned by a robust process to ensure that the selection of topics is objective, relevant, balanced and transparent.

3.2       Assessment of topics (the ‘Lens’)

Our unique position as the independent central and local government auditors enables us to have an in-depth understanding of the delivery of public services by public sector organisations.  However, it is important that we have an effective process to build a programme of work that takes a strategic, longer-term view of the challenges facing the public sector, including the impact of decisions taken on future generations.

Topic Assessment Lens Description

Programme for Government (PfG) outcomes

The PfG and its supporting delivery plans set out desired outcomes for society’s wellbeing and the things that need to be done to help realise those outcomes.  Delivery of the PfG is dependent on strategic and cross-cutting work addressing the biggest challenges facing society.

Key risks identified across central government

Our work is aligned to the key corporate risks identified by departments.

Sectoral analysis

We aim to balance our work across departments, focusing on what matters most and avoiding ‘overload’ of scrutiny for individual departments.

‘The three Es’ / financial impact

We will continue to undertake work on economy, efficiency and effectiveness, with an eye to securing impacts on cost and quality for public services.

Public interest

We will continue to respond appropriately to concerns raised by officials, service users, elected representatives and members of the public.

Our experience 

We will apply our knowledge and experience to identify emerging significant issues and develop our response.

3.3 Range and volume of our public reporting outputs

We will maintain support for effective democratic scrutiny by providing assurance to increase public confidence, especially during critical transitions in Northern Ireland government and public administration.

Public Reporting

  • Independently examining and reporting to the Northern Ireland Assembly on whether public bodies spend taxpayers’ money economically, efficiently and effectively.
  • Auditing, assessing and reporting on district council performance improvement responsibilities.
  • Reporting promptly on new issues and emerging challenges.
  • Providing public bodies with constructive advice in the form of good practice reports across a range of areas.

Supporting public sector transformation in Northern Ireland

  • Our public reports will take account of single and cross-cutting themes.
  • Our outputs will be relevant and proportionate in relation to Northern Ireland public sector priorities.
  • We will respond rapidly to emerging issues in a changing environment and to concerns raised by third parties.

We will use our influence and strategic view to help public sector leaders deliver effective joined-up government.

4. Our public reporting programme 2021 to 2023

4.1 Value for Money studies

2021-22 2022-23
  • Closing the Gap (Educational attainment and social deprivation)

  • Investment in Broadband

  • Project Stratum

  • Mental Health Services

  • A Review of the Pre-school Immunisation Programme

  • Procurement of Personal Protective Equipment in Health

  • Use of ICT in Schools

  • Water Quality in Lakes and Rivers

  • Tackling Waiting Lists

  • Strategic Review of Procurement

  • Reducing Adult Reoffending

  • Strategic Review of the Education Authority

  • Financing NI Water’s Capital Programme

  • Northern Ireland Farm Animal Information System

  • Social Security Benefit Fraud

  • Building Skills for a Modern Economy

  • Universal Credit

  • Road Openings by Utilities

  • Central Government Transformation Programme

  • Stopping Smoking

  • Strategic Examination of Energy Efficiency

  • Review of the Northern Ireland Prison Service

4.2  Response Studies

2021-22 2022-23
  • Sports Sustainability Grants
  • Small Business Grant Support Scheme
  • To be determined

4.3 Shorter studies and follow-up impact studies

2021-22 2022-23
  • Review of the NI judicial review process
  • Renewable Heat Incentive follow-up review
  • NI Executive Response to COVID-19 - update
  • Review of the budgetary process in Northern Ireland
  • Ministerial Directions
  • Strengthening the Centre of government
  • Major capital projects – Ulster University Greater Belfast Development

4.4       General reports

2021-22 2022-23
  • Continuous Improvement Arrangements in Policing
  • Continuous Improvement Arrangements in Policing

4.5 Good practice guides

2021-22 2022-23
  • Asset Management
  • School Governance
  • Innovation and Risk Management
  • Cybersecurity

4.6 Local government

2021-22 2022-23
  • Planning (this report cross-cuts central and local government)
  • Extraordinary Audit of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council
  • Annual Report
  • Waste management (this report cross-cuts central and local government)
  • Annual Report
  • To be determined

4.7 Sector analysis: Overview of the balance of coverage by sector during 2021 to 2023

Sector Number of reports during 2021 to 2023







Local Government










Executive Office




Cross Cutting


5.  Stakeholder Engagement Framework

The NIAO is committed to open, two-way communication that involves us listening to our stakeholders, keeping them informed and being clear about how their contributions are being used.  Maintaining our independence and impartiality is important, so it is not about agreeing with stakeholders.  However, it involves recognising and understanding stakeholders’ individual values, beliefs, perceptions and ideas.  The NIAO will continue to build on stakeholder relationships, resulting in real dialogue and interaction.

The framework sets out a strategic approach to stakeholder engagement that includes:

  • principles to guide our engagement approach;
  • a process for conducting engagement activities; and
  • consideration of the level of engagement with various stakeholders, recognising that tools and strategies must be fit-for-purpose and appropriate to the issues on which we are seeking to engage.

The stakeholder engagement framework is underpinned by detailed processes, tools and templates, together with learning and development and a stakeholder management system, to support staff throughout the NIAO in planning, designing, undertaking and evaluating stakeholder engagement activities linked to our key strategic priorities.

5.1 Principles for engagement

We have adopted five key principles to guide stakeholder engagement activities. The principles reflect the good practice principles developed in "Effective stakeholder engagement:  Good practice guidelines" (Policy Champions Network, 2014) and set the standards to which we aspire in building consistent, open and respectful working relationships.

  • Purposeful: We begin every engagement with a clear understanding on what we want to achieve
    • While our engagement will be driven by our strategic priorities and our independence and impartiality, we must be aware of our stakeholders’ objectives, environment, expertise and level of influence.
    • We will ensure that our engagement strategy is proportionate and fit for purpose.
    • Our engagement strategy will try to identify opportunities for innovative solutions and add value to the public sector process.
    • When we know why we need to engage and we agree on what success looks like, it is easier to conduct focused and meaningful engagement.
    • By planning our communication and managing expectations, we aim to build lasting goodwill with stakeholders participating in the audit process and develop an understanding about their capacity to engage.
  • Inclusive: We identify relevant stakeholders and make it easy for them to engage
    • We identify and enable the participation of those people and organisations who contribute to, influence, or are affected by our work. This includes ensuring that methods used are accessible and suitable for Section 75 groups of our community.
    • We provide our stakeholders with the information they need to participate in a meaningful way.
  • Timely: We involve stakeholders from the start and agree on when and how to engage
    • We will clearly identify and explain the engagement process, and discuss with stakeholders, where possible, as to timelines.
    • This includes meeting schedules, and response times for information requests or feedback.
  • Transparent: We are open and honest in our engagement and set clear expectations
    • We will provide information so stakeholders can participate in a meaningful way.
    • We will clearly identify and explain the engagement process, the role of stakeholders in the engagement process, and communicate how their input will inform the project.
  • Respectful: We acknowledge and respect the expertise, perspective, and needs of stakeholders
    • We understand that engagement is a two-way process. We take care to be open to alternative views and to listen as well as speak.
    • We respect our stakeholders’ expertise and will engage in a manner that reflects mutual respect and trust.
    • We recognise the different communication needs and preferences of stakeholders and endeavour to meet these wherever possible.

5.2 The engagement process (Who we will engage with, together with the frequency and nature of engagement)

  • We engage with a wide range of stakeholders, including central government, local government, citizens and other audit agencies.
  • We ensure that we are clear on our purpose for engaging with each stakeholder, as well as the channels of communication that we use to convey our messages to them.
  • We acknowledge that the needs of each of our stakeholders will be different.  On that basis, we use different ways of engaging with each of them.
  • Beyond our overall message of underlining our independence and impartiality, we have other messages that are relevant to each stakeholder.
  • Stakeholders we have identified, together with our methods of engagement, will continue to evolve.

5.3 Levels of engagement

There is no “one-size-fits-all” stakeholder engagement method and different methods may be appropriate depending on the requirements of the engagement.  We recognise that identifying the most appropriate method of stakeholder engagement and the relevant tools and techniques to facilitate the engagement process can vary according to the situation, time, skills and resources.  All engagement methods have their benefits and limitations and we consider that it is important to select the right one and review it to ensure the method best fits the specific requirement.

5.4 Collaboration

We collaborate with a wide range of partners: with the Public Accounts Committee of the Assembly on evidence sessions based on our reports; with other regulators which share a similar remit, for example, the Criminal Justice Inspectorate Northern Ireland; with the other state audit agencies in the UK and Ireland; and with organisations like the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency to share knowledge and information.  We are committed to strengthening collaborative working in government, seeking more opportunities to work with others to deliver benefits for stakeholders and citizens.  We expect to build on this during the coming years of our programme.