Staff shortage ‘compromises’ state watchdog

Staff shortfalls at the State’s spending watchdog have significantly compromised its ability to keep track of public spending.

The Office of the Comptroller General was denied a recent request to hire experienced auditors to fill the gaps despite being forced to operate at 14% below its recommended staff complement.

In a submission to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, C&AG director of audit Andrew Harkness said a shortage of staff had “significantly” impacted on its capacity to keep up with demand.

Reports had warned the department that without senior auditors it ran the risk of increased errors through a lack of supervision of junior staff.

The office has highlighted particular problems retaining senior auditors. Mr Harkness said this impacted on its work scrutinising the accounts of public bodies.

“The shortfall in numbers will negatively impact on the timely delivery of financial audits in 2013,” he said.

Mr Harkness said the office had made savings to offset the salaries for the recruitment of two “vital” senior auditors. The recruitment embargo prevented it from hiring new staff.

The C&AG has had to spend €150,000 contracting outside accountants to help it complete its schedule of work. Another €250,000 is needed for next year.

In a report to the department, Mr Harkness said it should have 150 employees but only has 136. With maternity leave and secondments factored in, it is 129.

Details of the office’s appeals for more staff and assessment of the risk of a depleted workforce were released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The C&AG’s office has lost three staff to preparations for the country’s presidency of the EU next year.

It said that while sanction for additional posts has been made, this did not keep pace with fresh departures and retirements.

The office said it has had to outsource work to deal with the demands from the VEC and county enterprise board sectors. It has also been given some cover to cope with its examination of Nama.

Mr Harkness said there had been problems bringing in trainees at the rate needed to replace retirees. Five audit staff were due to retire by the end of this year.

A panel of potential trainees, drawn up in 2008, has been all but exhausted, and the office said it takes up to eight months to fill these vacancies.

Despite the pleas for staff, the department wrote to the C&AG in August, refusing permission to hire two additional senior auditors.

It said that instead, it would approve the hiring of temporary accountants whose contract must end after the 2013 audit cycle.

In previous years the C&AG drew up a memo on the effect of senior auditor shortages. This highlighted “increased risks in financial audit, arising from the fact supervision of junior staff may be reduced”.


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