Title: The audit dilemma in public services

Authors: Kazem Chaharbaghi

Addresses: University of East London, East London Business School, Docklands Campus, 4-6 University Way, London E16 2RD, UK

Abstract: Whilst in some way, audits can be seen as positive in terms of bringing about external accountability and regulation of high standards, the involvement of an approach in maintaining such standards by attaching a heavy weight to |quality| control considerations is questionable. This is because such an approach shifts the focus from performance, which is about results, to conformance which emphasises norm-following behaviour. In other words, it shifts focus from what professionals can do in delivering public services to what they cannot do. This can be demonstrated using the arguments put forward in a recent public debate on the audit culture which enjoyed the participation of a significant number of academic professionals who have experienced it and question its legitimacy and those in the position of authority who promote and reinforce it. The evidence from this debate suggests that whilst audits have their origin in the Utopian craving for imagined ideal public services, when they crystallise into a culture, involving sets of largely unconscious assumptions, they can be distorted to such an extent that they conceal more than they reveal with the result that the actual policy pursued is the exact opposite of the professed ideal.

Keywords: public policy; accountability; audit culture; new public management; public services; auditing; unconscious assumptions.

DOI: 10.1504/IJCA.2011.039603

International Journal of Critical Accounting, 2011 Vol.3 No.1, pp.18 - 25

Published online: 21 Oct 2014 *

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