Mark Woodthorpe-Smith joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2008 as a Senior Auditor. Here, he describes his experience of this specialist role within the FCO:
"Last year I took a career break from working in a public practice firm in London to travel and found myself alleviating the boredom of a long train journey from Irskutz towards the Urals by challenging an American sharing our cabin to a country naming competition. Three hours and a good few beers later he had cruised past the 150 mark and I was starting to struggle. Fast forward twelve months and I’ve started a new job at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I’m still learning new countries and feel ready for a rematch.
For anyone with a curiosity about other societies and cultures, working for the FCO is an experience that is simply unrivalled. Within the first six months I was able to travel to Hong Kong and Japan and then visit embassies across the Middle East. And you learn far more about these places through working with and speaking to local staff than you ever could as a tourist. In Syria I did everything from chat to a border guard who proudly showed me his “I love America” baseball cap to being entertained at the ambassador’s residence.
My role in the Internal Audit Department balances a risk based program of home audit work with a continuous review of our missions overseas. My role takes me overseas for 3-4 months of the year. Each Embassy or Consulate has its own unique features and gives an insight into local life whether it be operating in a country with a strong black market, to corruption or even dealing with the consequences of stag and hen parties and ‘Brits abroad’, consular emergencies and regular power failures. Our work in the UK is also fulfilling and varied covering a wide range of financial, strategic and operational activities such as governance and accountability audits of various parts of the office to consular fees, FCO Services and even royal visits organised by the Protocol department.
Prior to my career break I had worked for a number of years in internal audit and risk consultancy. Joining the FCO has been so much more professionally rewarding as you really feel that you get to properly investigate issues. Our focus is on quality, unlike in previous roles where the main drivers have been speed of work and numbers of reports produced.
Business failures and ever increasing numbers of corporate frauds around the world have raised the profile of the audit and risk profession. The Audit department and the management of risk both at home and in the network of FCO Posts across the globe is taken seriously and is very well respected within FCO. Working at missions across the world, our teams are continuously looking to enhance existing business practices and provide best practice solutions. Our work is received positively across the FCO both in our role as ‘policemen’ and on consultancy projects.
One further attraction of our work is that it reaches out further than just the FCO, with the opportunity to work on a variety of NDPB projects from BBC World Service to the British Council and Marshall Scholarships. As a result, the project based nature of our work continues to throw up new and interesting challenges and opportunities.
At the time of writing I have just given the American lad on the train a tour around our Whitehall office. Sadly, in the pub later, the rematch didn’t go my way. Still more learning to do…"