The UK Overseas Territories Project: Looking back at 2020/21
Published 08 July 2021
The UK Overseas Territories Project, now in its second phase, is an ongoing programme of support for public financial management and good governance targeted towards the UK Overseas Territories (OTs).
Over the past five years, CPA UK, in partnership with the UK National Audit Office (NAO) and the UK Government Internal Audit Agency (GIAA), and funded by the HMG-wide Conflict, Security and Stability Fund (CSSF), has worked with partners in the UK and OTs to provide training, mentoring and support to encourage effective public financial management and promote good governance. Despite the challenges of Covid-19, the UK Overseas Project has continued to deliver a programme of tailored support to OTs in 2020/21.
In October 2020, the Project was awarded the Public Finance Award 2020 for Good Governance, Risk Management or Prevention. The Award recognises an individual or team that has developed a governance, risk management or prevention project, displaying high accountability standards, strong oversight and risk awareness alongside improved outcomes and impact.
The Judges said: “The UK Overseas Territories Project stood out as being different and one that has the potential to make a substantial impact. It addresses a recognised problem and is robust in its oversight. Government departments with interests abroad can replicate success with this approach.”
As the work of our stakeholders and partners in the UK Overseas Territories, continues to adapt in response to the challenges of the Covid-19 Pandemic, our Project remains committed to strengthening the role of parliamentary scrutiny and building the capacity of important financial oversight institutions.
For further information about the UK Overseas Territories Project, please contact the team on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support for Committees
The new phase of the project focuses on four spheres (assemblies, elections and external and internal audit offices) across the electoral cycle (pre-election, election and post-election). Whilst we continue our important public financial management support for Public Accounts Committees (PACs), External and Internal Audit, we are broadening our support into other areas of parliamentary oversight.
Across the OTs, PACs play a critical role in scrutinising the work of governments and ensuring financial transparency and accountability.
As part of the UK Overseas Territories Project, CPA UK has led the support to PACs, providing committee members with opportunities to share technical expertise and knowledge and enabling them to build on their own expertise to hold governments to account on behalf of their citizens.
From 16 -17 November 2020, CPA UK delivered a two-day virtual PAC Workshop in Anguilla. The Workshop explored four critical themes:
- Preparing for an evidence session and managing an inquiry,
- How to operate effectively as a PAC in a virtual world,
- Producing a fair and balanced report, and
- Measuring success as a PAC.
Read the Workshop report here.
In November and December 2020, CPA UK organised three virtual workshops on financial scrutiny for the St Helena Public Accounts Committee. The sessions, delivered by Larry Honeysett, Head of Financial Scrutiny at the UK Parliament Scrutiny Unit, focused on improving knowledge of financial scrutiny on three topics; Understanding Financial Statements, Measuring Performance and Value for Money, and Approaches to Scrutiny and Questioning. Read the Workshop report here.
Hon Cyril Gunnel from St Helena said: “We are very grateful to Larry for identifying the type of training we need. All of that has come through over the last three sessions and has been really beneficial to us and we look forward to the positive outcomes from that and how we take it forward.”
The review of Standing Orders (SOs) was identified this year as a new area of support under the wider remit of the project. As a result, CPA UK has secured the commitment of an experienced clerk from the UK Parliament, who is supporting the Montserrat Legislative Assembly with the review of its Standing Orders. This will be a valuable opportunity for both parties to learn from each other throughout the process, sharing knowledge and good practice.
The need for a review on Standing Orders in Montserrat was noted in late February 2020, when the UK Overseas Territories Project delivered a Post-Election Seminar on the Island. Members of the Legislative Assembly identified this need and agreed to a review; a commitment outlined in the final report of the post-election seminar. Read the Workshop report here.
With almost the entire globe being impacted by Covid-19, the Project had to adapt its work in 2020/21 to overcome travel restrictions and national lockdowns.
One way it achieved this was through supporting the first-ever virtual election expert missions, which were conducted for elections in Anguilla and the Turks & Caicos Islands.
In June 2020, international observers carried out an independent Election Expert Mission to the Anguilla 2020 General Election. The Mission concluded the elections were broadly in compliance with the human rights standards and universal principles that are applicable, but also made 12 recommendations for future improvements. Read the final report here.
Following recommendations from a previous observation mission delivered by the CPA British Islands & Mediterranean Region in December 2016, the Turks & Caicos Islands House of Assembly passed the Elections Amendment Ordinance 2020 Bill. The Bill now includes provisions to simplify the counting of votes by electronic means, a direct response to the recommendations.
Building upon this experience, in February 2021, a team of international experts independently assessed the Turks and Caicos Islands General Election and made 10 further recommendations to improve the electoral process. Read the final report here.
The UKOT Project aims to assist external audit capacity in the UK Overseas Territories. Through training seminars, tailored resources, e-workshops, pilot audits, and support to financial and performance audits, the UK National Audit Office (NAO) seeks to strengthen the capacity of the OTs’ external audit offices to perform their role, including their ability to produce timely ISSAI compliant financial audits and report their findings to key stakeholders including Parliament, the Governor and the Financial Secretary.
In 2020/21, the Project’s External Audit work continued to build relationships and foster engagement with key stakeholders in the OTs particularly with Auditor Generals and Auditors.
The NAO delivered an online workshop on Ethics in Public Audit on 5 February 2021 led by Sue Winspear, Auditor General for the Cayman Islands and Jamie Patterson, Ethics Lead at the UK National Audit Office. A fantastic turnout of around 60 staff of UKOT audit offices was recorded.
In February, the project also launched its updated UKOTs Financial Audit Manual. The previous version, produced in 2017, helped audit offices implement International Standards on Auditing (UK) where relevant and appropriate. The new version, available for download via the resources page of the Project Portal, contains updated information to reflect the introduction of new and revised international auditing standards. A launch event was held on 4 March to introduce the changes.
On 23 March 2021, almost 50 delegates from UKOTs attended a Quality Management Workshop, hosted by the NAO's Financial Audit Practice & Quality Team. The event covered the requirements of auditors under ISQM, factors associated with high-quality audits, and the root causes of problems with audit quality.
As part of the Internal Audit stream of activity within the UK Overseas Territories Project, the Government Internal Audit Agency (GIAA) has worked in partnership with Internal Audit Offices to provide and facilitate professional development.
In February 2021, GIAA facilitated an External Quality Assessment to the Cayman Islands. This was the first-ever virtual EQA carried out by the Project for the territories and was made possible with the use of technology. GIAA undertook fieldwork and interviews with key stakeholders of the service and held video meetings with, amongst others, the Chair of the Audit and Risk Assurance Committee (ARAC), the Head of Portfolio Office and the Auditor General. The Cayman Islands Internal Audit Service (IAS) now generally conforms with international standards, a positive change from the partial conformance that was found when supporting the internal quality assessment undertaken in 2018.
After providing technical support for 2020/21, GIAA is happy to report that the St Helena IAS is now offering to undertake similar audits for internal audit teams in other territories. This kind of support is in line with the approach of the delivery of the project and will help consolidate the learning for the St Helena team whilst building competencies in other teams.
In line with the GIAA’s broader work on ARAC effectiveness reviews, four representatives from Montserrat attended the new ARAC members’ event run by GIAA in March 2021. The half-day event covered a wide range of topics relevant to new ARAC members in government and brought together speaker contributions from a wide range of government bodies.
Members of the newly-formed Clerks Leadership Group meet for the inaugural meeting in April 2021
The Internal and External Audit Leadership Groups continued to go from strength to strength in 2020/21. The two groups were established in March 2019 to connect auditors in the OTs and to provide a space to share knowledge, expertise and best practice.
The leadership groups held a series of quarterly meetings and workshops to explore various topics, including implications of Covid-19 for financial and performance audits, managing potential conflicts of interest and how to implement and manage audit platforms and software.
Building on the success of the audit leadership groups, a new leadership group was recently formed and launched for clerks. The Clerk Leadership Group recognises the central role of clerks in the facilitation of parliamentary business and procedure across the Overseas Territories.
The new network aims to provide a forum to exchange knowledge and expertise, share best practices, and continue to improve parliamentary clerk services in the OTs.
The inaugural meeting of the Clerks Leadership Group took place on 28 April 2021, allowing participants to agree on a common purpose for the network and outline terms of membership, roles, and responsibilities. Initial support will continue to be provided by the UKOTP team, with ownership to be taken on thereafter by the members to ensure sustainability.
Speaking on ‘the Role of a Clerk’ to attendees at the inaugural meeting, Fay Bowen, Clerk to the Public Accounts Committee, Senedd, said:
“These types of groups are good for having support. Discussions like these can really help identify and address challenges faced by PACs wherever you are and increase awareness and understanding of how these committees operate…I’d encourage you to be open and share your common issues and experiences…because together we can overcome obstacles and build a long-term relationship that will help support this as a lasting network going forward.”