Public Sector – Finance staff in jail row

Prison service managers are threatening to derail Whitehall’s shift to resource accounting by blocking plans to recruit more than 30 accountants to help the service cope with the changes.

The disputes centre on the role the new recruits will play. Many senior managers in the service feel their positions could be threatened by professionally qualified finance staff.

The efficiency of financial management in prisons and the responsibilities of accountants were called into question when a high-profile private finance initiative project, codenamed Quantam, was shelved last year after doubts over its cost and risk potential.

Now, with the introduction of resource accounting and budgeting across central government, Home Office insiders have revealed the service is struggling to cope and has been forced to bring in extra staff.

Speaking to Accountancy Age, prison service head of accounting Alan Pay said around 100 permanent accountants were employed and had been supplemented with temporary staff whose posts would soon become permanent.

‘Because of the changes in RAB we had hoped some skills could be transferred to other prison staff. That has not happened as well as we had hoped, for a whole range of reasons. And we hadn’t anticipated the significant changes RAB posed to us,’ he explained.

At the end of 1998, the Heads of management services petitioned the prison service director general, Richard Tilt – who has since been replaced by Martin Narey – to stop more permanent accounting staff joining amid fears that their roles were being challenged.

‘They are saying (employing more accountants) encroaches on their jobs,’ Pay said.

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