A shortage of trained accountants is forcing Whitehall departments to turn to the private sector for staff to ensure the government’s attempt to move to resource accounting does not fail at the first hurdle, Accountancy Age has learned.
Replacing its existing cash basis of budgeting by resource accounting will introduce accruals practices across government departments over the next two years. All 49 departments are working to move their systems to resource accounting, producing a ‘dry run’ set of resource accounts for 1998/1999 to be examined by the National Audit Office.
In several ‘value for money’ reports, the NAO has blamed the lack of qualified accountants for the poor quality of government bodies’ accounts.
This week, senior Whitehall officials admitted departments are having to import qualified accountants from both the private sector and elsewhere within the public sector to meet the demand for staff familiar with resource accounting. Departments have already hired permanent or temporary staff and retrained non-accountants.
The defence ministry is thought to be furthest behind, though officials are studying military operations in Kosovo to see how resource accounting will operate when it goes live. If commitments are expanded and ground troops are sent in, MoD accountants are likely to go with them to track spending.
PricewaterhouseCoopers partner Janet Eilbeck said: ‘The shortage of appropriately experienced accountants could put at risk the effective and timely implementation of resource accounting and budgeting.’
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