This year marks the 16th anniversary of PwC’s Building Public Trust Awards (BPTA). Once again, we’re pleased to present the award for public sector reporting in association with the National Audit Office.
While the launch of these awards in 2003 is now a distant memory, they remain as relevant and resonant today as they did when they began. We’re in an era where trust in institutions of all kinds is at a premium, and where public and media scrutiny of what organisations say and do is constant. In such an environment, supporting and sustaining organisations’ journey towards openness in reporting is more important than ever.
To keep pace with the ongoing shifts in the trust environment, we’ve fine-tuned and expanded the awards over the years, including widening their focus to cover all the main areas of the economy as well as societal issues. This approach continued this year, most notably through the introduction of a number of new awards, as described by Charles Tilley, chairman of our independent judging panel. As Charles notes, by getting ahead of the game and moving into emerging areas like cyber security reporting, the awards seek to stimulate the type of open, accessible reporting they’re seeking to celebrate.
The awards also look to spur innovation and fresh approaches in reporting more generally – and these qualities are present today. We’ve recently been through a period where we saw a levelling-off of improvements in reporting quality, as organisations adjusted to changes in the environment and consolidated the progress made in previous years.
This year, the sense among PwC’s reporting teams and our independent judging panels was that the leaders in corporate reporting are pushing back the boundaries once again – not least in areas like stakeholder engagement, smart use of graphics, assurance on non-financial metrics, and reporting on board activities.
If there’s one message to be drawn from all the awards, it’s that economic success and societal progress can go hand in hand. I said last year that I thought the example provided by our nominees had set the stage for the next big step forward in corporate reporting. I believe this is now underway, opening the way to helping to build enhanced trust in society.
Finally, I’d like to express my thanks to our independent judging panel as a whole, without whom these awards wouldn’t be possible, and more especially to Charles Tilley, who’s been a member of the panel for ten years, including the past eight as chairman. Charles is stepping down this year – and on behalf of PwC and everyone associated with BPTA, I’d like to thank him for a decade of sterling service. Without his hard work and insight, these awards would not be what they are today. Thank you, Charles.
This has been my tenth year as a member of the Building Public Trust Awards (BPTA) independent judging panel, and my eighth as chairman. Over that time, my fellow panellists and I have seen significant and ongoing evolution both in the awards themselves and also in the reporting environment for organisations of all types.
This year is no exception, with the awards continuing to develop and expand to cover more aspects of the economy and society. This widening remit underlines that the BPTA programme – like corporate reporting itself – never stands still. But what hasn’t changed is the importance of celebrating openness, by recognising and rewarding reporting that’s honest, accessible and authentic, and which engages people in ways that build trust.
So, what changes have we seen this time? In recent years, we’ve placed a growing emphasis on organisations’ societal contribution and impact. This has continued in 2018, accompanied by the creation of new awards in areas including reporting on cyber security, overseas investment, and impacts achieved by social enterprises, all presented at the BPTA dinner; and reporting in financial services, presented at the BPTA lunch. We’ve also updated the people reporting award to focus on ‘workforce fairness’ and the sustainability award to now represent purpose & impact.
A further step forward involves one of last year’s innovations – the “people’s panel” of members of the public, whose views on a subset of the nominated reports were collected and provided as inputs to the independent judging panel. Their views proved so valuable that this year the people’s panel was extended to cover all the reports. Interestingly, the close alignment I noted last year between the insights from the people’s panel and those of the PwC assessors and independent judges continued in 2018.
Which brings me to this year’s crop of reports. And I’m delighted to say that after a couple of years where consolidation seemed to dominate over innovation, our sense this time was that the leaders are once again looking to break new ground. In particular, we’re seeing a growing commitment to reporting openly and transparently on engagement with a wider range of stakeholders, and on how that engagement shapes board decisions. It was also gratifying this year to see a rich mix of new contenders on many of the shortlists.
That said, reporting is always on a journey, and the progress is faster in some award categories than others. Cyber security reporting, for example, remains an emerging and embryonic area, and one where I hope and believe BPTA’s involvement will help to raise the bar. By getting ahead of the game in this way, the awards can help to spur innovation and development in reporting – as they have, for example, in reporting by charities.
However, one area where the judging panel continued to voice a degree of disappointment this year was around public sector reporting. The members noted the ongoing lack of nominations among the largest public spending departments, and the need to integrate metrics more effectively into the narrative. More positively, they felt the nominated public sector bodies had made a very creditable effort to report in a clear, engaging and honest way.
On a personal note, I mentioned earlier that I’ve now been chairing the BPTA independent judging panel for eight years this year will be my last in the role. However, I’m stepping down secure in the knowledge that my fellow panel member Mark Wood is taking over the reins, and will do an excellent job as my successor. It only remains for me to give my wholehearted thanks to all the judges I’ve worked with over the years, and whose diverse insights and wholehearted commitment have made my job so easy. My thanks also go – of course – to PwC for making these awards happen, and for doing so much to help move the reporting agenda forward. Thank you all!
The National Audit Office is delighted to continue to co-sponsor the "Reporting in the Public Sector" award, together with PwC. Our aim is to give credit to government organisations leading the way in driving fresh thinking and innovation in their reporting.
Those who prepare annual reports and accounts, together with those charged with governance, have a duty to account clearly for the use of those resources with which they have been entrusted and to make sure reporting is “fair, balanced and understandable”.
We have all seen the criticisms arising from recent corporate failures including that financial statements have become more difficult to follow because of the complexity of their underlying transactions. These criticisms can only serve to weaken that trust which the public should expect to be able to place in those who prepare and audit financial statements and those who set the standards for these professions to follow.
The public sector is not immune to these risks. The sector’s role is wide ranging and is becoming increasingly more complex reflecting the services it delivers. It: defends us and our national interest; supports us in our education, welfare and health; provides a fair and robust criminal justice system; makes sure our national infrastructure is fit for purpose; it manages our national liabilities; ensures we all have access to our heritage assets and information, for example through our museums and national broadcasters; it collects revenues and raises debt to support all these services; and much more.
All this is done against the need to manage ever scarcer resource more effectively to meet the needs of the public in these difficult times.
It is therefore even more important that the public sector tells its “story” through trusted, good quality reporting, and in ways that are relevant and accessible to readers – whether those readers are Members of Parliament or members of the public.
Good reporting should explain why public money has been spent and what has been achieved with that spend; and it should give insight into the challenges the sector faces and the risks to delivery and success, as well as how stewardship over public funds has been exercised. The need for this is ever more important given the risks and challenges which the public sector faces.
Parliament, through the departmental select committees and Public Accounts Committee, continues to devote time to scrutinising departmental annual reports and accounts, and is using the insight it obtains as a means to hold government to account for its performance.
This year’s nominees for the “Reporting in the Public Sector” award provide good examples of the scale of activities provided by the public sector. Our nominees embody many elements of good public sector reporting, making creditable efforts to communicate transparently, with a strong emphasis on the outcomes for their stakeholders. They also highlight what can be achieved when the public sector takes on board good practice in annual reporting.
However, I might argue that there remains more to be done by the public sector in raising its bar to meet the even higher standards that other sectors have achieved. I encourage those in the public service responsible for annual reporting to draw from all this good practice and act as ambassadors for the rest of the sector to follow in raising the standard of reporting even more.
The NAO’s involvement with these awards will remain part of our wider commitment to helping raise the standards of reporting by public bodies. We look forward to continuing to work with Parliament, our clients, HM Treasury and other stakeholders, including PwC, to sustain ongoing improvements in public sector reporting in the years ahead.