Awards 2001 – HM Prison Service – Annual report and Accounts of the Year

This year’s Annual Report and Accounts award goes to an unusual but thoroughly deserving recipient. Most people know of the organisation, but few would credit it as a reporting and financial guiding light.

This year’s Accountancy Age Awards for Excellence has recognised Her Majesty’s Prison Service’s achievement in reporting a clear, well-presented, and thorough report of its activities and finances.

The award’s judges heaped praise on the submission, saying it was among the most pleasantly surprising reports they had read, the best they’d seen in a very long time, and truly outstanding.

One judge was so impressed with the reports, he said it was ‘way ahead of the others – it blew my mind. I didn’t imagine the Prison Service coming up with something that different.’

Another added: ‘There was a lot of cost information that I would want to know as a taxpayer. It’s an excellent job – an incredibly different approach.’

The 126-page report is clearly presented, very communicative and surprisingly colourful and dynamic. Its presentation is far from institutional – something that might have been expected from a government agency that runs prisons.

It’s full of pictures and has clear headlines outlining the different areas to be reported on. It also presents a well laid-out and clear report of the Service’s activities.

The numbers behind the Service’s front-line work are also well presented, as the accounts have clear explanations of the figures and present the statutory background to the accounts. As one of the judges pointed out, it was an ‘incredibly impressive communication’.

Surprisingly, instead of having one long list of figures without explanations, the accounts incorporate the figures into the explanations.

The report includes an organisational chart of the entire prison service, showing department heads and directors, charts of key performance indicators set against targets, and even outlines the results of drugs testing in various prisons.

The Service’s director general Martin Narey – who signs off the accounts – and his accounting team do not have an easy task. Unlike most companies that have to satisfy only two parties – auditors and shareholders – the Prison Service must meet the needs of six different audiences, sending out 2,500 copies of its report.

Besides its auditors, the Service has to submit its accounts to both houses of parliament, its partners in the criminal justice system, the Home Office, a range of other groups such as charities and academic institutions, and its staff.

The accounts are subject to very strict regulations, audited by the National Audit Office and signed by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Going through the accounts, it is easy to see why they deserve the highest honour. They are thorough, easy to read and can be understood by anyone, even the taxpayer.

HM Prison Service’s website can be found at: An online version of the accounts can be found there, or a hard copy can be purchased through’s online bookstore for #19.

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