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Improvements still needed in public accounting

UK Government needs to harmonise its financial reporting frameworks across all bodies, according to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).

ICAEW made the comments on the back of the Whole of Government Accounts (WGA) 2010-2011 report that was issued by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday.

"Different government bodies use different financial reporting frameworks and they also report at different times. This makes pulling together one set of accounts for all bodies and departments challenging; it delays the process and makes it more costly," ICAEW's public sector regulatory policy manager Sumita Shah explained.

"A consistent system would help speed up the process and allow this key information to guide decision making more immediately."
Shah said the Treasury has responsibly for economic and financial policy but there currently is "not enough focus on the financial management side", suggesting a type of group chief financial officer who could implement "stronger financial disciplines across Government would help improve processes that should result in better use of the information" is needed.

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) added the UK HM Revenue & Customs (Treasury) needs also to make better use of the data available. It warns if stronger public financial management is not implemented the quality of public service outcomes, decision-making and long-term sustainability of public services will not improve.

"Making data widely available should not been seen as a substitute for effective financial scrutiny by parliaments. These accounts can only be meaningful if decision makers are analysing them and reflecting on them for making sound, transparent and accountable future policy decisions," ACCA's public sector head Gillian Fawcett remarked.

"The whole point with these accounts is that Government can demonstrate the importance of the quality of information available, including financial and service delivery, to help inform decision making for the future."

Timeliness issue
PAC chairman Margaret Hodge said another issue is the lengthy time it is taking to put the WGA together. The WGA, which was first published in 2011 and represents more than 1,500 public bodies, took 19 months to publish meaning the information is now out of date.

With WGAs overarching aim being to improve transparency in Government accounts, Hodge called for the Treasury to make a "clear plan for improving the timeliness, quality and completeness of the WGA, and how it will use this document to support the management of the nation's finances".

The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy director of policy Ian Carruthers said it "fully supports the Committee's call for a clear plan to continue to improve the Whole of Government Accounts so that they can be used more effectively to support decision making".

"The primary and most urgent challenges are to address current audit qualifications and to achieve more timely publication," Carruthers added.

Related article
IPSAS EU adoption not likely in current form: EC
Related links
Public Accounts Committee: Whole of Government Accounts 2010-2011 report
Association of Chartered Certified Accountants
Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy
Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales

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