Whitehall accounts back on track

Whitehall is on track to implement resource accounting by the end of the financial year despite fears just six months ago that some departments had fallen so far behind that meeting the deadline would be impossible.

Under resource accounting, the government is replacing its existing cash basis of budgeting by introducing accruals. The process, overseen by Andrew Likierman, head of the Government Accountancy Service, has proved controversial but all 49 departments have now reached trigger point two – a crucial target that indicates their opening balance sheets for 1999/2000 have been assessed.

‘Based on trigger point two assessment, the Treasury is able to confirm that all departments are on track to produce auditable resource accounts for 1999/2000 – the first live year of resource accounting,’ one Treasury official said.

The news marks a significant victory for the accounting service over the National Audit Office which last May called for a delay in implementation due to a lack of preparation.

The next stage of the timetable has already begun with the NAO undertaking the first audit of departments’ dry-run accounts for 1998/99.

But private-sector critics say the government is doing too little too late to improve financial management in Whitehall.

Giving the inaugural lecture for the English ICA’s centre for business performance, institute president Dame Sheila Masters said resource accounting would contribute to public sector management. But she added: ‘It might have had a major impact some time ago, but it does not seem now much more than housekeeping.’

The claim was rebuffed by a senior Treasury official. ‘The evidence we have is that if we had gone faster it would have gone wrong. It would have been much more expensive and involve more risk as well,’ he said.

Black is new Scottish audit chief

Bob Black, controller of the Accounts Commission, is to be the first head of Audit Scotland, a new body bringing together the work of the commission and the National Audit Office in Scotland. As predicted in Accountancy Age in May, Black will take up his post in April 2000. The appointment was expected to be confirmed by the Scottish parliament yesterday.

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