What is audit?

The annual audit, also known as the financial audit, is a detailed inspection of a body’s accounts and processes to determine whether their financial statements present a true and fair view of that organisation’s financial position and whether the organisation follows robust processes over the management of finances and risks.

We also produce performance reports on particular issues of public interest, such as aspects of health service management, major infrastructure projects and the implementation of government policies. And in 2023, we began a new approach to auditing Best Value in Scottish councils. The new approach continues to audit against the statutory duty but is now fully integrated with the annual audit at each council.

What is public audit?

Public audit is the audit of public bodies on behalf of the public and policy-makers (i.e. the Scottish Parliament).

A key difference compared with the private sector is that in public audit in Scotland, the Auditor General (for central government and its agencies, health and colleges) or the Accounts Commission (for local authorities) appoint the auditors of a public body rather than the body hiring the auditors themselves, as happens in the private sector. This means the auditor is free from any potential or perceived conflicts of interest.

In Scotland, we are responsible for the audit of more than 200 public bodies, and we also look in detail at wider issues, such as how they are run, how they are performing and how they are demonstrating value for money.

Why is public audit important?

Public audit is about making sure the public’s money is used properly to deliver the services all of us rely on, from schools and healthcare to roads and rubbish collection. It covers a large amount of money, around £43 billion a year in Scotland (that’s £5 million being spent every hour of every day).

What is the scope of your work?

Our audits check whether public bodies manage their finances to the highest standards and achieve the best possible value for public money. We help public bodies to continue to improve, and we provide assurance to elected representatives, appointed board members and the public that public money is being spent properly, efficiently and effectively.

What's the difference between internal and external audit?

Internal auditors are appointed by the organisation itself and look at issues such as internal systems for control and risk management. External auditors are appointed by the Auditor General (for central government and its agencies, health and colleges) or the Accounts Commission (for local authorities) and look at whether the financial statements are true and fair, as well as contributing to assessments on financial management, financial sustainability, governance and transparency, and value for money. You can read our annual audit reports as well as our audit plans for each public body in the Our work section.

How do Audit Scotland, the Accounts Commission and the Auditor General for Scotland work together?

The Accounts Commission is responsible for auditing councils. The Auditor General is responsible for auditing most other Scottish public bodies including the Scottish Government and its agencies. Audit Scotland works on behalf of both the Accounts Commission and the Auditor General, so all three bodies share resources and audit expertise. Enquiries should be directed via Audit Scotland. There’s more  information about the Accounts Commission and the Auditor General in our About Us section.

How is your work reported?

Auditors report the detailed findings of audits directly to the bodies they audit. They also produce annual audit reports for each public body audited to show how they perform during each financial year. The reports are based on the annual accounts.

We also produce performance reports that look at particular issues of public concern and in 2023, we began a new approach to auditing Best Value in Scottish councils, which continues to audit against the statutory duty but is now fully integrated with the annual audit at each council. All our reports can be downloaded from the Publications section of our website.

How do you carry out your work?

By means of fieldwork and detailed study. We liaise with audited bodies and other contacts for meetings, review accounts and other documents and discuss our findings with them. We have around 300 staff based all over Scotland. We have offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness.

How do you choose what to investigate?

During our annual audits, our auditors consider anything which may be significant, exploring any issues that need further scrutiny. The Auditor General or the Accounts Commission may then decide to investigate further.

We cannot pass judgement on policy decisions, such as the level of funding for health or council services, but we can and do look at the processes for making decisions and how these are implemented.

Our performance audit programme covers key areas of public interest and public policy. We develop our forward work programme after extensive consultation in order to target areas where we can support improvement in public services.

Who can ask Audit Scotland to investigate something?

We’re a public body here to serve the public’s best interests. Anyone can contact us to raise a concern. You can do this either through our concerns or complaints process. Or if you work for the organisation you have a concern about, you can contact us as a whistleblower. See our contact section for more details.

Where can I find information on my council’s performance?

You can find information on your local council in our Best Value reports and annual audit reports, as well as the Improvement Service’s website.

Where can I find information on the performance of my health board or college?

Our annual audit reports section contains all audits of health boards and colleges, as well as all other public bodies in Scotland.

How do I complain about a public organisation?

Issues should be raised first with the organisation that you are concerned about.

If you are dissatisfied with the response and continue to have concerns about the misuse of public funds, you can write to us, explaining your concerns. Please provide us with evidence in support of your concerns and include details of any contact you have had with the organisation. If you have trouble writing, phone us on 0131 625 1500. If you are unsure as to whether we are the right organisation to deal with your concerns you can visit us to learn more about organisations dealing with complaints about Scottish public bodies or phone us for advice. We may recommend that you write to us or we may suggest other organisations that are better placed to deal with your concerns. Our contact section includes information about what correspondence we deal with and our procedures.

What are the statutory powers of the Auditor General / the Accounts Commission / Audit Scotland?

The Auditor General is appointed by the Crown and is independent. They can make recommendations to audited bodies, including the Scottish Government, and they report to the Scottish Parliament. The Accounts Commission can make recommendations to audited bodies, including the Scottish Government. It can also hold public hearings, although this is rare.

Is your work publicly available?

Most of our work is publicly available on our website. In addition to that, our reports are also discussed in formal public settings. Reports prepared for the Auditor General are discussed at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee. Reports prepared for the Accounts Commission are discussed at the Commission’s monthly public meetings. The annual audits for public bodies such as councils and health boards are discussed at those bodies’ meetings, typically at their audit committees.

I can’t find the report I’m looking for on your website. Who can I contact about it?

Our publications team can advise. Please email publications@audit-scotland.gov.uk or call 0131 625 1500.

What issues are you planning to look at in the future?

You can view our future work programme on our website.