Scottish Public Finance Manual

The Scottish Public Finance Manual (SPFM) is issued by the Scottish Ministers to provide guidance on the proper handling and reporting of public funds.

Appendix B: protocol between the SG and Audit Scotland on performance audits


1. The purpose of this protocol is to ensure that all relevant parties in the Scottish Government and Audit Scotland are aware of the arrangements for carrying out performance audits1 undertaken on behalf of the Auditor General for Scotland (AGS) and clearing draft reports. It needs to be underpinned by clear communication systems within the respective organisations, which are the responsibility of the individual organisations to operate, and is not intended to be a substitute for these.

2. Audit Scotland's contacts with the Scottish Government in relation to such audits are through the performance audit teams which are responsible for national performance audits on behalf of the AGS and the Accounts Commission (for joint AGS\AC reports). The work of these teams is reported in public and all reports are formally considered by the Parliament's Public Audit Committee. This work is generally under the direction of the Director of the Performance Audit Group.

3. This protocol deals with the conduct of performance audits that lead to reports by the AGS. Some local follow-through of these reports may be undertaken once they have been published and considered by the Public Audit Committee as part of local audit work on the audit of accounts.

Consultation on planned performance audits

4. The AGS and the Accounts Commission consult with relevant stakeholders, including the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government, through on-going stakeholder engagement, on the themes and proposed topics for their rolling programme of performance audits. As part of this process Audit Scotland's performance audit staff aim to meet with a range of Scottish Government officials to get informal feedback on the themes and proposals.

5. The final programme is considered and noted by the Public Audit Committee and circulated to all stakeholders. However, Audit Scotland may add other audits over the period of the programme at the request of the AGS or the Accounts Commission as it aims to ensure that it can respond to issues of public interest as they arise. The Scottish Government, via the Director General Finance, is made aware of any proposed additions to the programme to be undertaken by or on behalf of the AGS and given the opportunity to comment on scope, timing and other related issues. Decisions on such matters are ultimately for the AGS.

Communication between Audit Scotland and the Scottish Government at relevant stages of an audit

6. All performance audits conform to Audit Scotland's quality standards as set out in its performance audit standards and project management framework. This means that the following table applies to the process for all planned performance audits (projects). Audits which are introduced late into the programme in response to specific issues of public concern follow the same framework.


Communication between Audit Scotland and the Scottish Government

Informing the relevant Accountable Officer(s) (AO) that the project/audit is starting

  • This will be done by letter or e-mail to the AO in the first instance. Copies also e-mailed to: the Scottish Government (SG) liaison officer for the Parliamentary Public Audit Committee; the SG's Head of Internal Audit; and the Director General (DG) Finance.
  • The A0 2 will nominate a person to act as a 'key contact'. S\he will facilitate access to relevant people and documentation for the scoping and fieldwork stages.
  • If necessary a meeting with the relevant AO and/or key SG staff (including the key contact) can be held at this stage.

Scoping the project and sharing the final project brief

  • The Audit Scotland (AS) project team will meet with key SG staff (including the key contact) to inform scoping work.
  • As part of this activity the team is likely to identify an appropriate person (who may be the key contact) to join the project advisory group (see next stage).
  • Once the AGS (and the Accounts Commission for joint AGS/ AC projects) have approved the project brief, it will be sent to the AO and the project team will offer the AO and/or key SG staff (including the key contact) a meeting to explain the scope and coverage of the project. A copy of the project brief also emailed to the SG liaison officer for the Parliamentary Public Audit Committee; the SG's Head of Internal Audit; and the DG Finance.

Establishing an advisory group 3

  • Most projects have an advisory group. AS selects members for their expertise and relevant knowledge.
  • AS always invites a member of the SG staff to sit on an advisory group for their distinctive perspective and as a way of ensuring that there should be no surprises in the final report. At different stages in the project, members of the advisory group are usually asked to comment on draft project briefs, the proposed methodology, the emerging findings, and the draft report.


  • The project team is likely to interview key people in the SG and to request documents and records which may be relevant to the study. Either the AO or the key contact will help the team identify relevant individuals to interview.
  • The project team will ensure that the key contact and relevant AO are informed of any significant emerging issues towards the end of the fieldwork stage. The DG Finance will be copied in to any relevant documents.

Draft report / key messages

  • The project manager sends a copy of the key messages document and draft report to all project advisory group members, including the SG representative, for comment.

Formal clearance

  • The AGS sends a formal letter and a copy of the report to the relevant AO. The AGS's letter specifies the date when comments are due back (this is three weeks from the date of the letter) and asks for confirmation of the factual accuracy of the report and any other comments on the presentation and conclusions. This letter is sent by e-mail and is copied to the relevant key contact for the study and the SG representative on the advisory group if this is different. It also includes the intended publication date of the report.
  • On the same day, the project team e-mails the letter and report to the SG liaison officer for the Parliamentary Public Audit Committee; the SG Head of Internal Audit; and the DG Finance. For NHS reports this is also e-mailed to the Deputy Director of Health Finance and Information.
  • The relevant key contact collates the SG response to non-NHS reports while the Deputy Director of Health Finance and Information, in liaison with relevant key contact/advisory group member, collates the response to NHS reports. .
  • The AGS's letter asks that, if there are any significant issues concerning factual accuracy, the AO's staff liaise with the AS project team in advance of the three week deadline. The project manager e-mails the key contact at SG one week before clearance comments are due back to check that everything is on course to get comments by the due date. The project team may also find it beneficial to meet the key SG staff (including the key contact) before the end of the clearance period to discuss any issues arising.
  • If necessary the project team and the Director or Assistant Director of Performance Audit will meet with the relevant AO during the clearance process.
  • Clearance comments are made in a formal letter to the AGS from the AO. This letter should be e-mailed to the AGS and copied to the AS project manager.
  • If significant concerns are raised at this stage the project team, on behalf of the AGS, may formally respond to the AO's letter.


  • Copies of the final version of the report are sent to the Permanent Secretary, the AO and other relevant SG contacts to arrive three working days before publication. These reports are 'embargoed' until the day of publication. Copies of all reports are also sent to the DG Finance, the SG Head of Internal Audit and the SG liaison officer for the Parliamentary Public Audit Committee.
  • AS's communications team sends a copy of the report's press release to the SG liaison officer for the Parliamentary Public Audit Committee and the SG press office for information 2-3 days before the report is published. Media outlets receive the press release the day before publication.
  • The SG communications team provides AS's communications team with a copy of any relevant press release the day before it is issued.

Disclosure of information

  • If a request is made to AS for the disclosure of information obtained from the SG in the context of an examination and the information might be regarded by the SG as sensitive or exempt under FOI legislation, AS will, where reasonably practicable, consult the SG before complying with the request. AS will similarly consult the SG before volunteering such information to a third party or including it in any publication.
1 Also known as value for money examinations; economy, efficiency and effectiveness (3E) examinations; and Section 23 reports.
2 At this stage the AO will identify if any other Directors General have Accountable Officer responsibilities for the areas intended to be covered by the project.
3 Audit Scotland's reports are independent and are not subject to pressure from any parties. The project advisory group is advisory only but is an important part of the overall project management processes. It helps ensure that Audit Scotland's work is subject to external challenge and is relevant.
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