Too few Whitehall staff with financial qualifications

The government was this week congratulated for appointing more qualified
accountants to the boards of Whitehall departments but was also told too few
staff managing massive budgets lower down the civil service tree had the
adequate financial qualifications.

It also emerged that the current finance director of HM Revenue &
Customs does not have an accountancy qualification.

The comments came in a report by Westminster’s main financial and efficiency
watchdog the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee on Managing Financial
Resources to Deliver Better Public Services.

Edward Leigh, chairman of the all-party group, said: ‘The sum central
government spends each year on public services – over £550bn at present – would
suggest that it attaches a great deal of importance to the financial management
skills of its staff.

‘The evidence indicates that it does not. Since we last reported on this
extremely important topic, in 2004, the number of qualified finance directors on
the boards of government departments has increased. But this should be set
against the general lack of financial skills among non-finance staff.

‘You would think that no department would contemplate implementing a policy
without first estimating what it is going to cost. But only 20% of departments
based policy decisions on a thorough assessment of their financial implications.

‘A lot of this is down to the poor quality, timeliness and completeness of
the financial information available to departmental boards. The Treasury and
Cabinet Office are putting their weight behind initiatives to improve this
situation but, at present, government departments are still not giving enough
priority to driving towards better standards in financial resource management.
This is to the detriment of achieving efficiency and value for money in the
provision of services.”

Since the Committee’s last Report in 2004, the number of qualified finance d
irectors with a seat on the departmental board has increased. This has enhanced
the focus on financial performance at senior management level, but the lack of
financial skills and awareness among non-finance staff remains a barrier to
improving financial management more generally across government.

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