This frustrating trend is only worse in the public sector. Accountants, we hear all too often, are being employed at the expense of nurses while financial anomalies (known as provisions by the cognoscenti) mean that ‘new money’ meant for frontline services is being wasted by the men in grey suits. Controversy may rage about the handful of ‘bad’ teachers and doctors, but it seems that by definition all accountants are bad.
This of course is nonsense. As service budgets come under ever greater pressure, accountants matter more, not less. Labour’s fingers have been badly burnt by underestimating the degree to which the electorate wants to see promises on health and education matched by delivery. But the way to tackle that is not by diluting financial controls.
Encouragingly there were suggestions from the newest tier of government last week that this tide might be reversing. London mayor Ken Livingstone told the CIPFA conference in Brighton he had instructed London authority finance staff to make budget information available to members in a move to increase openness.
Accountants, again particularly those in the public sector, have often failed to practice the openness they preach. But in a climate of misinformation this sort of move may well help their own standing.