Public Sector – Whitehall faces accountant shortage

Government departments and agencies are facing a crisis caused by a lack of trained accountants, the National Audit Office will warn today, writes Ben Griffiths.

Reporting to parliament on the outcome of financial audit work in the central government sector over the past year, NAO head Sir John Bourn is set to reveal an increase in the number of accounts submitted late.

According to the NAO, the number of late appropriation accounts has risen from 1% to 20% in the past five years.

Sir John will also warn that the standard of acco-unts submitted to the NAO is declining. Departments have attributed this to the need to concentrate on intro-ducing accounting changes and a lack of sufficiently qualified staff.

Under new Treasury rules, departments are moving to resource accounting.

In the run-up to full implementation, ‘dry-run’ accounts must be prepared for 1998/1999, followed by a fully audited form from 1999/2000.

The NAO has found that, while departments completed the first stage, they have considerable work to do to achieve the requirements of the following stages.

Among the other findings of its investigation, the NAO revealed that poor or untested accounting systems, unresolved policies, and problems with opening balances had caused departments to fall behind in preparing for resource accounting.

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