Audit and Assurance committee handbook

Guidance on the principles and best practise for the organisation of Audit and Assurance committees.

Chapter 2: Membership, Independence, Objectivity and Understanding


2.1 An effective Audit and Assurance Committee must have members who are both independent and objective. The Accountable Officer and Board should be supported by an Audit and Assurance Committee with no executive responsibilities, comprising of at least three members. The Chair should be a Non-Executive Member (NEBM) [sometimes called a Non-Executive Director (NXD)] with relevant experience. There should be at least one other NEBM/NXD on the committee; when there are insufficient NEBMs/NXDs to form the committee, independent external members will need to be appointed. The committee may also need to seek further independent, non-executive membership from sources other than the Board in order to ensure an appropriate level of skills and experience. These members are appointed to the Audit and Assurance Committee but not to the Board and the independence of the committee from an executive function should be its guiding ethos. In order to operate in an independent and competent manner, the committee should possess the requisite knowledge and skills to effectively engage with and challenge the organisation (see Chapter 4: Role and Scope).

Relationship with the Executive of the organisation

2.2 Executive members of the organisation should not be appointed to the Audit and Assurance Committee. The role of the executive managers is to attend, to provide information, and to participate in discussions, either for the whole duration of a meeting or for particular items.

2.3 The Accountable Officer and the Finance Director should routinely attend the Audit and Assurance Committee. It is also normal for the Head of Internal Audit and a representative of the External Auditor to attend. However, the strategic internal audit terms of reference, which forms the basis of the relationship between the body and internal audit, should also provide for the Audit and Assurance Committee to sit privately without any non-members present for all or part of a meeting if they so wish.

2.4 It is also good practice for the Chair of the Audit and Assurance Committee to meet the Accountable Officer, the Finance Director, the Head of Internal Audit and the External Auditor's senior representative outside of the formal committee structure (see Chapter 5: Communication and Reporting).

Other participants

2.5 It is also common for representatives of sponsoring or sponsored bodies to attend Audit and Assurance Committee meetings (for example, a member of the core Scottish Government may attend the Audit and Assurance Committee of one of its Executive Agencies or bodies). However, such representatives should not be appointed as members of the committee.

Conflicts of interest

2.6 Normally the process for recording declarations of conflicts of interests in the Audit and Assurance Committee should mirror the processes used at Board level. Each member of the committee should take personal responsibility to declare pro-actively any potential conflict of interest arising out of business on the committee's agenda or from changes in the member's personal circumstances. The Chair should then determine an appropriate course of action with the member. For example, the member might simply be asked to leave while a particular item of business is taken; or in more extreme cases the member could be asked to leave the committee. If it is the Chair who has a conflict of interest, the Board or Accountable Officer should ask another member of the committee to lead in determining the appropriate course of action. A key factor in determining the course of action will be the likely duration of the conflict of interest: a conflict likely to endure for a long time is more likely to suggest that the member should leave.

Terms of appointment

2.7 All members of the Audit and Assurance Committee should have a clear understanding of:

  • what is expected of them in their role, including time commitments;
  • how their individual performance will be appraised, including a clear understanding of what would be regarded as unsatisfactory performance and the criteria which would indicate the termination of Audit and Assurance Committee membership should be considered;
  • the duration of their appointment and how often it may be renewed; and
  • training required and how this will be provided.

2.8 The terms of appointment of an Audit and Assurance Committee member should be clearly set out at the time of appointment. A model letter of appointment is set out at Annex C. The letter should also specify what other activities the individual may or may not undertake in relation to the organisation. The impact on independence of any remuneration from other activities should be given careful consideration.



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