The complaint came from the Northern Ireland Committee, whose report said all the Northern Ireland departments were committed to meeting the Treasury timetables for ‘faster closing’ and the production of Whole of Government Accounts.
But the MPs said a new management information system on which DFP depend for information required for resource accounts will not begin to be rolled out until April 2006, and the process would take two years.
The Treasury timetable requires the production of audited accounts by late July for the 2005-6 financial year onwards.
The Committee said it was ‘concerned’ about the rigour of financial management of NI departments, accusing the DFP of issuing ‘ineffective guidance’ when resource accounting was introduced.
In an ‘unacceptably high’ level of negative audit opinions, 10 NI departmental accounts submitted qualified accounts for 2001-02, seven in 2002-3 and four in 2003-4. This included the Department for Social Development (DSD), whose qualification covered £112.3 million in losses from fraud, some 3.2% of total benefit expenditure.
The MPs said the DSD – which lost £121 million in 2001 – ‘needs to make a sustained effort to improve its financial control over the grants, benefits and payments for which it is responsible’.
But they were even more damming about the ‘apparent lack of leadership historically exercised by DFP’.
MPs said the additional strains of devolution were insufficient explanation. Departments had failed to deploy sufficient numbers of qualified staff to meet the challenge of resource accounting.
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