Inter-authority audit toolkit

Last updated:
2 November 2010
The Agency is keen to support local authority initiatives in relation to inter-authority audits (IAA) and recognises that existing local mechanisms for peer review offer a potential means of meeting national and European requirements for local authority audit with a more self-regulating and sustainable model for qualitative performance monitoring.

The toolkit consists of 17 Word documents derived from good practice from previous inter-authority audit programmes, as well as template documents provided by the Agency. These documents are available at the links below.

Planning

Gain the commitment of all the local authorities in the Food Liaison Group (FLG) to full participation in the inter-authority audit (IAA) scheme.

Consider the setting up of a dedicated steering group to plan and oversee the process, consisting of a representative from each participating authority. A successful IAA requires good project management and specific timescales for all actions in the programme. Whether or not a steering group is created, a minimum requirement is a nominated officer to coordinate the scheme and administer the process, acting as a central point of contact for both auditors and those being audited.

The selection of the scope of the IAA by steering group or FLG – this should be a manageable service area depending on resources and timescales of the proposed process e.g. one area of the standard or the standard divided into sections, each to be audited over a rolling programme.

The scope should ideally be agreed by the Chief Officers’ Group from the participating local authorities. The full support of senior management in each participating local authority is essential to ensure that the scheme is properly resourced and is therefore sustainable and actively carried out.

As a useful adjunct to file record reviews and discussions with officers, an IAA programme could include verification visits to food premises (reality checks).

A documented IAA protocol developed by either the steering group or nominated officers from the FLG, which is agreed by all local authorities during the planning stage can ensure consistency and encourage local authorities to adhere to agreed timescales. To maintain senior management interest this should be provided to the Chief Officers Group for information. The protocol should cover all stages of the IAA and include the means by which any disputes will be dealt with and describe how the outcomes of the audits will be reported and progressed.

Development

The steering group or scheme coordinator to produce an audit timetable and work programme with clear timescales for every stage of the process.

Ideally, and where practical, two auditors from separate local authorities should audit a third local authority. A ‘round robin’ system with no reciprocal audits is preferable to minimise bias. One of the auditors should take the lead auditor role. Ideally back-up auditors should also be nominated in case of absence to ensure that the IAA timetable does not slip.

The auditors should ideally have demonstrable skills and competence in auditing e.g. lead assessor qualification. The qualification requirements should be agreed by the steering group or by all members of the FLG. The nominated coordinator would ideally be responsible for validating auditor suitability. To ensure consistency, auditors should not take a lead auditor role until they have acted as second auditor for at least two audits.

Each authority should nominate a suitable audit liaison officer (ALO). This officer is normally responsible for liaising with the auditors throughout the IAA process and ensuring that any documents requested by the auditors are provided both before and during the audit. The ALO should have a very good knowledge of the feed/food service and be able to answer audit protocol questions. The feed/food team manager or lead feed/food officer would be appropriate for this role.

Development of audit documentation would be done by the steering group or coordinating officer. The majority of IAA schemes use FSA audit templates including pre-visit questionnaires, protocols and checklists. These can be adapted for the scope of the audit selected by the FLG.

It may be useful to arrange a meeting of auditors and audit liaison officers to agree consistency of approach, to discuss any queries about the process, and to provide training to ensure that everyone is familiar with the IAA protocol.

Everyone participating in the IAA should sign up to a confidentiality agreement, so that it is agreed in advance what can and cannot be shared outside the individual audits.

Implementation – pre-audit

The lead auditor to request copies of policies and procedures from the audit liaison officer in addition to a completed pre-visit questionnaire (using FSA template). The timescales for the return of these to be agreed by the steering group/FLG and would be stated in the IAA protocol or associated work programme.

An audit timetable and file lists are produced by the lead auditor on receipt of the pre-visit questionnaire and associated documentation. These enable the audited authority to retrieve relevant records for the audit to minimise the on-site audit time.

It can be useful to develop a short list of structured questions on the main audit focus to ensure that key information is obtained from each participating authority. This can be very useful when collating the findings of the IAA for a summary report. Also, answers to the questions can be requested before the on-site audit which can minimise the time on site and also can inform further on-site discussions.

Implementation – on-site audit

After a brief opening meeting to check on practical arrangements, the audits are carried out using protocols (adapted from FSA protocols) and checklists relevant to the scope of the IAA.

A structured interview with an operational officer about their day-to-day work can be a useful way of getting a broader view of how the work of the audited authority is organised in practice and to inform the general findings from the file checks and so on.

Where a verification visit to a food premises (reality check) has been planned as part of the IAA, the lead auditor should agree, in advance, the selection of a suitable premises with the audited authority.

Detailed feedback on audit findings should be provided to the ALO verbally throughout the audit, with a general summary of findings presented at the closing meeting.

During an IAA the auditors should look for examples of good practice, both in respect of documented policies and procedures and working practices. The audited authority should always be asked if they are prepared to share any documents.

Outcomes

The lead auditor should produce a draft report of the audit findings within an agreed timescale (in the audit protocol) to include recommendations for improvement where applicable.

The main aim of a robust feed and food service IAA process should be to gain assurance that the audited area of the food service complies with the standard, the Feed/Food Law Code of Practice and centrally issued guidance.

For the IAA to be valid, it is essential that where areas requiring improvement are identified, these are notified to the audited authority and documented in the report of the audit. The production and implementation of an action plan by the audited authority is the main outcome of an effective IAA.

It is up to the FLG whether all individual audit findings are shared within an open forum. However, if the IAA is to inform Agency selection of local authorities for central audit, then openness and transparency are important.

The ALO should provide the auditor with any comments on the draft report in a timely manner together with an action plan to address any audit recommendations. The action plans should include dates by which remedial actions are to be completed.

The IAA protocol should provide for the monitoring of action plan implementation. Ideally this would be initially carried out by the lead auditor, with regular reports on progress to FLG meetings to prevent momentum being lost in implementation of improvements. It is beneficial to put action plan reviews in the diary to ensure that they happen in a timely manner and do not lapse.

The identification and sharing of good practice is also a key aim of IAA. The IAA coordinator or steering group would normally collate and agree any examples of good practice before disseminating this to the FLG.

In order to engage and retain the interest of senior management, a report summarising the outcomes of the IAA should be reported to the Chief Officers Group. Within individual local authorities the inclusion of reports on the progress and outcomes of IAA in the Service Plan annual review process can highlight the benefits of partnership working with neighbouring LAs and demonstrate the usefulness of the process in improving the service.

Review

At the end of an IAA cycle, there should be a review of the process so that any problems can be ironed out before the next cycle. This would provide each participating authority with an opportunity to suggest what was most and least useful to inform the next IAA planning process.