Publication of the first set of accounts for UK plc moved a step closer last week after a Treasury research report backed proposals to produce a unified statement of government finances within the next six years.
Whitehall departments are currently pushing ahead with resource accounting but there is still no firm commitment to bring together these individual accounts into a single national statement for the public sector.
The Treasury report, carried out in conjunction with the National Audit Office, says a decision on whether to produce a central government account for 2001/2002 will be taken in 2000. ‘If this were not possible, an alternative would be to move straight to whole of government accounts, with the first set of GAAP-based accounts produced for 2003/2004,’ it says.
Unaudited trial accounts – prepared by the Treasury – should be available from 2003/2004 onwards, however this would only happen ‘if the decision to proceed was justified once a full cost or benefit analysis had been completed’.
The report concludes that the government should aim for a ‘full set of audited accounts based on UK GAAP for the whole public sector’. It would sit alongside improved but unaudited national accounts based on statistical principles. A first step would be to consolidate Whitehall accounts – produced based on resource accounting principles – into a central government account.
Whitehall switches to resource accounting in the 1999/2000 financial year. A dry run is being carried out this year, with accruals-based accounts alongside the traditional cash-based appropriation accounts.
The NAO will audit the new accounts, though they are not due to be published, nor is it clear to what extent the findings will be made public.
CIPFA’s policy and technical director Martin Evans said whole of government accounts would enable it to ‘demonstrate more effectively how it is discharging its accountability both for the stewardship of public money and its use of resources in the delivery of programmes and policies.’
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