This has been another turbulent year in the world of public finance.
The advent of resource accounting, the bedding down of the ‘Best Value’ regime and the continuing debate over public private partnerships all added up to create a particularly challenging time for the nation’s public auditors and accountants.
And now the sector is coming to terms with the ‘Whole of Government Accounting’ concept, an approach designed to create ‘joined-up’ accounting throughout the public sector.
The changes and transitions will have placed an enormous strain on those working in finance, be they in central government, local authorities, NHS trusts or other public bodies. Resource accounting has involved a move from a cash-based accounting system to one in line with commercial-style accruals accounting. The new methods were guided through to implementation by the head of the government accountancy service Andrew Likierman, who was knighted in the recent Queen’s birthday honours list.
The move required a huge re-training effort to know and understand the new methods, while at the same time maintaining accounts under the old regime.
The ‘Best Value’ scheme has also added to the workload, placing a duty on all councils to deliver the most economic, efficient and effective services possible. And the high-profile publication of the Institute of Public Policy Research’s report on PFI and PPP schemes served to remind us how important a role public finance plays in the provision of public services.
Against this background, public sector accountants have been required to maintain standards like never before.
How they have responded to the challenge will figure high in the judges’ minds when they meet to consider this year’s Accountancy Age Public Services Achievement Award.
The award is open to all individuals working in public service accounting including government departments, local authorities, executive agencies, NHS trusts, charities and housing associations.
The judges will be looking for evidence to show how entrants demonstrated imagination and financial skill in achieving best value for service users.
The winner will have satisfied both the needs of internal and external customers, and will receive his or her award, together with a #500 cash prize, at a glittering awards ceremony at London’s Natural History Museum on 7 November.
Last year’s award was won by David Allcock, assistant director of finance at Birmingham Heartlands and Solihull NHS Trust.
He was part of the team involved in replacing very old ward blocks with new high quality patient care facilities against a background of limited capital resources and considerable cost pressures. In preparing the business case for the re-organisation of the Trust’s medical services, David took a leading role in determining how to provide services at a reduced cost without affecting the quality of patient care.
Clearly demonstrating innovation, perseverance and great professionalism, Allcock negotiated a sophisticated brokerage arrangement with the trust to enable the cash flow of the project to be managed.
Allcock’s contribution to the success of the project is typical of the many unsung professionals who ensure front line services provided by all public services are supported by secure, well-managed finances.
The changes blowing through the corridors of Whitehall and Town Hall are daunting and Accountancy Age wants to celebrate the vital contribution public service accountants are making to those changes.
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