A-Z Of Employers: National Audit Office

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The Independent Online

What does it do?

The National Audit Office (NAO) sounds like a dry institution populated by pin-striped bureaucrats number-crunching their way through reports that will never see the light of day. Not so! The fruits of their labours often make headlines, and ruffle feathers. A recent NAO report into struggling schools, for example, concluded that nearly a million pupils were receiving an unsatisfactory education - hardly a finding designed to induce slumber. Its official role, established back in the reign of Elizabeth I, is to scrutinise, on behalf of Parliament, all spending by central government and other agencies and bodies, recent reports covering military readiness, cancer services, railway stations and asylum statistics.

Vital statistics:

The NAO audits some 550 accounts, covering about £800bn of expenditure and revenue. It makes recommendations that lead to savings of £8 for every £1 spent running the office.

The office:

Head office is in Victoria, London, with regional centres in Newcastle and Blackpool. The total workforce numbers 800.

Is this you?

About 70 graduates a year are recruited, all destined to train as chartered accountants. You will need a genuine interest in the public sector, and be able to show leadership potential, plus a 2:1 in any subject, 300 UCAS points, and a C or above in maths and English at GCSE .

The recruitment process:

Applications, via www.nao.org.uk/graduates are sifted for first interview candidates, an experience that also includes a maths test. The next stage is a group selection, when you are invited in for a full day, to complete a case study, a group exercise, a presentation, and have a further interview. Job offers are made after this stage. Training is for just over three years, split between time at college, on dedicated study blocks, and at work involved in audits, which entails visiting clients at their sites. All graduates spend at least 30 per cent of their time on value-for-money (VFM) work. Most start at Victoria, but this year there will be some starter places in Newcastle.

Top dollar?

The starting salary is £23,369, which increases with annual pay rises, and as each stage of exams are completed.

Beam me up Scotty?

If you have passed your accountancy exams, at the end of the training scheme, you will be offered an open-ended contract as an audit principal, and can choose whether to specialise in financial audit or VFM work. After two years, promotions to audit manager and director level lie ahead.

Who's the boss?

The NAO is headed by Sir John Bourn, who bears the ancient sounding title of Comptroller and Auditor General, a post established in Gladstone's day. Sir John got a first in economics, and then did a PhD, at LSE, before joining the Civil Service, reaching the rank of Deputy Under Secretary of State for Defence Procurement at the MoD.

Little known fact:

There are currently two NAO staff members in Mongolia working on a project to help improve state audit there.

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