Overview: new dawn

The Treasury has spent the last two years seeking to get qualified finance
directors heading up the finance functions of all major departments.

Only three months ago, the goal looked distant, with the department needing
12 FDs to meet its goal, of 45 departments in total.

At the time of writing, however, the government accounting mandarins in the
Treasury, headed by Mary Keegan, seemed to have sealed the deal.

A spokesman said that 90% of the money controlled by the departments was
under the control of a qualified FD, a figure that the Treasury was confident
would rise to 99% today.

What’s happened

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown made the pledge to improve government accounting
two years ago.

Many were surprised that there were not qualified FDs in place already. Some
opposition MPs have expressed surprise that it has taken this long to ensure
government finances were managed by qualified people.

Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams, said he was astounded that it had taken
until now to hire professionally qualified FDs. ‘The government was boasting
about how much better it had got at managing public finances, but I was
astounded that it had never had FDs in place before now’ he said last year.

The department said just before Christmas that, barring around four smaller
departments, the target would be met. Those departments outside that represented
‘less than 1% of spending’, a spokesman said.

Recent private sector appointees include Mark Clarke, brother of former Home
secretary Charles Clarke. Clarke became director general, finance and strategy
group at the Department of Trade and Industry this summer. He is the first
professionally qualified FD the department has ever had.

What’s going to happen

Ideally, the public sector will see fewer major accounting scandals than it has.

The most recent major problems were at the Home Office, whose accounts were
qualified by the National Audit Office.

Qualifying the 2005-6 accounts, Sir John Bourne, the head of the NAO, noted
system and control weaknesses that continue to exist, as well as ‘ineffective
cash management procedures.’

Private sector businesses with qualified FDs have accounting problems too, of
course. But the government will be hoping its success in hiring and training its
top finance officials will put an end to such unpleasant publicity.

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