The Serious Fraud Office has failed to file accounts prepared under the new resource system of government accounting on time, forcing the Treasury and the National Audit Office into last-ditch talks over debt provisions. The SFO is one of only two government departments that has failed to achieve a changeover from appropriation accounts to resource accounts on schedule. As Accountancy Age went to press SFO, Treasury and NAO officials were involved in intensive discussion to settle remaining disagreements over technical details. The issue holding up SFO accounts is a policy decision about how to identify costs received from defendants in court cases. Paul Rayner, principal finance office at the SFO, said debate had raged over whether to include the costs as debts. ‘It has to appear in the balance sheet but the question is whether it is a note, or whether we score all the money as debtors and take provision against them,’ he said. A similar ‘policy’ issue is understood to be plaguing the Crown Prosecution Service whose accounts also failed to meet deadlines. This is the last year dry-run resource accounts are to run parallel with appropriation accounts before a full switch over next year. The changeover, which is being led by Andrew Likierman, head of the government accountancy service, will introduce commercial accounting practices to government departments – an issue that has so far proved controversial. For the Treasury it is crucial resource accounts are completed on time so that a planned expenditure review this year can be conducted on a resource basis. In February it emerged that delays resulted in the NAO being able to audit only 14 out of 53 sets of shadow resource accounts by the end of 1999. Treasury chief secretary Andrew Smith has already pledged that he will maintain the old form of accounting if resource accounts are not ready on time.
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