Annual activity report to Parliament 2013

The report presents the conclusions made on the basis of the audit findings as well as summaries of the audit findings that are of material importance to Parliament. The report also assesses whether positions adopted by Parliament on the basis of reports of the Audit Committee have resulted in any measures. Furthermore, the report presents a review of the National Audit Office’s activities and their effectiveness during the 20xx budget year.

Main content

Three themes stand out in the National Audit Office’s report to the 2013 parliamentary session: functioning of the central government steering and management systems, public administration that is efficient and service-oriented from the perspective of citizens’ well-being and the knowledge base of the decision-making essential to the successful management of the central government finances.

In its audits of the functioning of the steering systems and the management of state assets, the National Audit Office has drawn attention to steering at Government and ministerial level. The lack of a systematic steering policy makes it more difficult for the Government to present a comprehensive approach to steering. A number of cross-administrative policy programmes were prepared during the previous government term but strong criticism towards them prompted the Government to abandon the practice. However, more effective tools have not yet been introduced to replace them. Knowledge-based management has also been a central starting point in the development of the Government’s working practices. Recently, however, as work has continued on the drafting of major reforms, there has been friction, new tensions and uncertainty concerning the roles of different actors between knowledge-creation based on earlier research and political value-creation.

Even though the steering systems at ministry level are on a sound basis, there is still room for improvement in the practical aspects of steering. It emerged from the audits of the steering systems of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior that target-setting and the foundations of strategic planning are in order and that there have been few problems in the drafting of laws, a central responsibility of the ministries. At the same time, however, there are differences between steering practices, while the performance targets have been set so that it is difficult to assess how well they have been achieved or to determine the link between the targets and appropriations. It was noted in the audit of the special assignment companies that the government resolution on ownership policy is now a well-established part of ownership steering. However, at the same time, there are differences between the ownership strategy monitoring practices of ministries and agencies. Likewise, in the reports submitted to the Parliament, there has not been enough emphasis on the companies’ corporate social responsibility.

Shortcomings in group-level steering in central government have also affected the shared ICT services offered by the Government IT Shared Service Centre (VIP). They have not been introduced in the central government in a large scale because no policy decisions on introducing them have been made at central government level. Not enough attention has been given to the overall organisation of ICT services.

The financial audits conducted by the National Audit Office have produced a roughly similar picture of the steering process. The basis and procedures for performance guidance are now well-established. Reporting on economic efficiency and productivity and on chargeable services is on a comprehensive basis and better than before even though there are some differences in the manner

in which the information on these matters is presented. The financial audits also indicate that target-setting remains a stumbling block. However, economic efficiency targets are key to smoothly functioning performance guidance one task of which is to combine effectiveness, adequate service levels and management of costs. Internal control and risk management are an essential part of a well-functioning steering system. According to the audit findings, there have been some improvements in these areas.

The second theme emerging from the audits was the impact and effectiveness of the basic and other services available to the public. The audit produced no clear evidence that rehabilitation helps to lengthen working careers. However, lengthening of working careers is one the main objectives of the Government. There are more people incapable of work than people without work. Disabilities also cause higher losses in total production than unemployment and the losses are usually permanent. According to the audit, there has been little steering of rehabilitation or monitoring of its effects at national level. Not much emphasis or consideration has been given to the risk factors that arise when people retire on a disability pension in the focusing of resources or preventive measures. It has emerged that there are major regional differences in morbidity and the length of working careers.

The audit of special needs education produced similar findings. According to the audit, the number of pupils in special needs education grew by 60 per cent in the ten-year period between 2001 and 2010. In 2010, the teachers assigned to special needs education accounted for 14 per cent of all teachers in basic education. It seems that the objective of providing early support as part of basic education, which the changes to the Basic Education Act introduced in 2010 were meant to reinforce, has been achieved during the first years of basic education in the form of parttime special support. However, the number of pupils transferred to special needs education increased during basic education. The largest amount of special needs education was provided during the last years of Basic education. This trend is especially worrying because, according to the audit, individualisation of the syllabuses weakens the ability of the young people to continue their studies. It also emerged that there are significant differences in the provision of special needs education and the support provided for pupils with similar learning difficulties between different parts of the country. The existing system of funding special needs education is based on an assumption that there are no differences in the need for special support between municipalities. However, it seems that in municipalities and regions where the socio-economic background of the working- age population is weaker, the need for special support is also greater.

The third theme that emerged from the audits was the knowledge base of the decision-making concerning central government finances and the state of the information systems supporting it. As central government resources are shrinking, it is particularly important that the decisions concerning the allocation of funds are based on careful consideration of the economic and other impacts of the decisions. Hasty and poorly prepared decisions tend to increase the likelihood of undesired impacts and partial optimisations and may lead to a situation where the allocation of the resources is ineffective in terms of overall economics.

For example, there has been such a weakening in the scope of the statistics on pupils receiving special needs education and the resources allocated for special needs education that it is impossible to assess the impacts and effectiveness of special needs education in a reliable manner. Likewise, even though significant money flows are channelled to rehabilitation, there is no systematic monitoring of its effectiveness. In the audits of traffic safety, attention was drawn to gaps in statistics and careful examination of the benefits and disadvantages of organisational reforms. Likewise, there is no proper knowledge base for assessing the success of the reforms concerning the Government IT State Service Centre. It has transpired in the follow-ups to the performance audits that the recommendations of the National Audit Office concerning the knowledge base of the decision-making, information systems and knowledge-based policy preparation have only been partially implemented.

The aim of the National Audit Office is to promote effective and high-quality management of central government finances. The year 2012 was the last year of the strategy period (2007–2012) of the National Audit Office. As regards the effectiveness of the activities of the National Audit Office, it can be said that during the strategy period, NAO has become more effective as an actor strengthening the budgetary and legislative powers of the Parliament, particularly in the reporting to the Parliament and in the audit themes providing a framework for audit topics. The year also saw the completion of an international peer review, which showed that the quality management system of the National Audit Office meets the requirements of the International Standards of Supreme Audit Institutions (ISSAI). In the personnel policy of the National Audit Office, the focus was on the development and management of expertise as tools for ensuring effective operations and workplace well-being. During the year under review the National Audit Office has been given new statutory tasks as an independent body monitoring and evaluating fiscal policy, as referred to in the Fiscal Stability Treaty and the budgetary framework directive of the European Union. In its financial management, the National Audit Office has continued the implementation of the stability and efficiency programme initiated in 2010, which in practice has meant reductions in the number of personnel.