Audit Committee Roles and Responsibilities in a UK Public Sector Context:Foundation Trusts and Local Authorities

  • Karim Hegazy

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis responds to calls for more research on the operations, roles and responsibilities of Audit Committees (ACs), in different organizational contexts and institutional settings (Spira, 2003; Turley and Zaman, 2007; Beasley et al., 2009; Pridgen and Wang, 2012). Whereas most academic interest to date has focused on the private sector (Hodges et al. 1996; Broadbent and Guthrie, 2008; Christopher, 2010), this study uses a case study to give insights into the AC operations within the public sector. ACs are important as they have considerable authority over public institutions' operations and their diverse functions and roles. This research examines the ACs' set-up, operations and responsibilities in two distinct public sector settings which contrast in terms of their structures, processes and histories, namely Foundation Trusts (FTs) and Local Authorities (LAs). These different environments allow the study to tease out how and why they differ from each other and from the private sector, and to give greater insight into their AC development.This study uses an interpretive accounting and case study approach. Evidence was gathered using a triangulation approach, and included interviews, document analysis and observation of meetings. For the analysis, this study develops a multi-theoretical framework which incorporates Institutional Theory (IT) (paying particular attention to Isomorphism) and agency theory which is extended and complemented by stewardship to synthesise and better articulate the operation of public sector ACs. The study finds that public sector ACs, in terms of their set-up, roles and operations, have a larger and more diverse role than private sector ACs. The AC role is extended beyond challenging and monitoring responsibilities to focus on clinical elements in FTs and Value for Money arrangements in LAs. Influenced both by the notion of New Public Management and the effect of scandals the development of the AC has been imposed through regulation in FTs, contrasting with the slower progress seen in LAs due to the latter's voluntary adoption. There is a developing general understanding within the AC members in terms of their assurance role, encapsulated by the idea of having ''a finger on the pulse rather than a finger in the pie''. In addition the study illustrates how the AC has been able to develop enhanced accountability relationships within FTs and LAs, being seen not as "a dead hand but rather a force for good and change".This study contributes new and in-depth knowledge to the limited literature about how ACs, as a CG mechanism, operate in different organizational contexts. It demonstrates that an isomorphic approach to implementing ACs in different settings is insufficient and incomplete, instead theorising that a spectrum encompassing aspects of agency and stewardship theory enables a more complete explanation of ACs' set-up, characteristics, processes and relationships. These findings may be appropriate both in other public sector environments in the UK or in other countries. The study also recognizes a need for further longitudinal future studies which could lead to contributions in regards to analysing AC roles, development and effectiveness in public sector organizations.
Date of Award1 Aug 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMahbub Zaman (Supervisor) & Anne Stafford (Supervisor)

Cite this