Public sector reporting continues to improve gradually, but a step change is what’s needed
October 05, 2018
The public sector is under more pressure than ever to demonstrate value for money for taxpayers. However, our review of public sector reporting shows only relatively gradual improvements in their quality, with little real innovation or significant change over the past year. With a Spending Review due to take place in 2019, public sector organisations need to up their game when it comes to reporting their impact and value.
Our Building Public Trust Award for Reporting in the Public Sector, which we assess jointly with the National Audit Office (NAO), focuses on the public sector entities that are consolidated into the ‘whole of government accounts’ – a diverse grouping that includes central government, NHS and local government bodies.
Government bodies’ reporting represent a formal record of accountability and should provide a clear picture of how taxpayers’ money has been spent and what has been achieved. Part of our judging process for the Building Public Trust Awards includes presenting the shortlisted reports to a ‘People’s Panel’, made up of representatives of the general public. In the case of the public sector reports, members of the panel said that their main awareness of the performance of public sector organisations came via the media or social media. By developing more engaging reporting, public sector organisations have the opportunity to tell their own story to the public, as well as other stakeholders. At root, this comes down to demonstrating and communicating impact and value for money in an open, balanced and engaging way.
Looking across the reports assessed this year, a number of common themes emerge in terms of what’s being done well and what could be done better.
Progress is being made on areas including the use of graphics to illustrate points and provide detailed analysis of organisations’ strategies. Risk reporting is also improving, although many organisations could do more to provide a balanced assessment of the risks they face in achieving their objectives.
Areas of weakness include a need to integrate the key aspects of the annual report into a more coherent structure, consistent and comparable with the prior year. Strategic objectives should be measured against relevant, quantifiable key performance indicators. It’s also important to ensure that annual reports are accessible and understandable: no matter how high-quality an annual report may be, stakeholders will not be able to use it effectively to hold organisations to account if they can’t understand the content.
The independent judging panel felt that this year’s shortlisted organisations had all made a creditable effort to report their activities and impacts in a transparent, balanced and understandable way and awarded The Crown Estate and the Ministry of Justice as joint winners.
Our ‘People’s Panel’ came away from reviewing the reports with a greater understanding of what each organisation does and a greater sense of trust that each organisation is focused on the public good, emphasising the opportunity for reporting to build public trust.
To read more about out what the organisations shortlisted this year are doing well, please click through to read the judges’ comments. If you’d like feedback on how your organisation scored in this year’s assessment, please feel free to get in touch by sending an email to [email protected].