Technical assurance – what should a board know?

Jon Slade, Director at Campbell Tickell, asks how does your board gain assurance on technical matters?

The tragedy at Grenfell Tower has motivated greater introspection among housing providers. Many boards are asking: How do we know our residents are safe? This is an excellent question, although in our view it takes too narrow a focus of the board’s responsibilities. We think the better question is: How does the board gain assurance on technical  matters?

A board and an executive team should each only have one member who is expert in the technical matters arising from owning and maintaining bricks and mortar. Too often boards deal with their lack of technical expertise by marginalising technical issues.

The symptoms we see when this happens include:
• Technical issues are handled at Risk and Audit Committee (RAC) if at all;
• A belief that ‘going through things in detail’ provides assurance;
• Beyond the responsible officer saying: “It’s safe”, we get lost in technical matters beyond our expertise.

Boards often think what they need is more technical expertise. This may or may not be true. But the wider issue is more often the bigger issue: improvement is needed in how non-technical board members interrogate on technical subjects to achieve assurance.

There are three facets to the board’s role in assurance to consider.

1. Policy

Firstly, the approach taken to assurance should be explicit. This means a written policy that sets out the roles, competencies and capabilities required at board, senior and operational levels, together with a description of the
attributes which determines how any task or project will interact with the policy.

By reading the policy and applying it to a task or project, it is straightforward to identify how assurance will be gained and the role of each tier in achieving assurance.

2. Skills audit

Secondly, with the board’s role, competencies and capabilities explicit in the policy, the board can establish whether it has the requisite levels of competence and capability. This can be carried out via a skills audit and by making plans to bridge gaps through training and, if necessary, recruitment.

3. Quality assurance

Thirdly, the board will want to quality-assure its work on assurance. This is of key importance because it is easy to mistake moving through the process as evidence of assurance, when in fact assurance is achieved through the quality of the work undertaken, rather than the quantity.

Learn more at CT’s risk and assurance workshops this November!

Join Campbell Tickell Partner, Sue Harvey and Director, Jon Slade, along with guest speakers, for a risk & assurance Masterclass this November.

Topics will include:

  • The role of full Board in managing your risks;
  • Why risk can not reside solely with your Risk and Audit Committee;
  • Key questions non-technical board members need to ask;
  • The characteristics of a structured approach to assurance;
  • How to spot if your approach may be masking unmitigated risks.


The workshop is running twice, once in Manchester (15th November) and London (22nd November). There are a limited number of spaces per masterclass (only 30 spaces).

Click here to book

To discuss any issues raised in this article, please contact Jon Slade on

This article is also featured in CT Brief – Issue 37


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