PracticeAccounting FirmsHalf-hearted approach to a full-time problem

Half-hearted approach to a full-time problem

When Andrew Likierman was appointed head of the government accounting service 15 years ago, it signalled a dramatic shift in the way government accounted for itself

Cash accounting was still the rule and while his predecessor, Sir Alan
Hardcastle, was no died in the wool civil servant (he was a chartered accountant
who would later play a leading role in the Bank of England inquiry into
Barings), the appointment of the academic Likierman marked a break with the
past.

The introduction by Sir Andrew ­ he was later knighted – of resource
accounting brought Whitehall finances into the 21st century. And despite the
progress made by his successor, the soon to depart Dame Mary Keegan, there is
still much to do. Sadly those reforms, which cynics would say were already
spluttering, are in danger of stalling. That has nothing to do with the quality
of the new head of the government accountancy profession, Jon Thompson.

An able finance director with bags of experience in Whitehall and ­ crucially
­ beyond, he takes over next week. Unfortunately he does so with one hand tied
behind his back, as it will be in a part-time capacity.

The challenges facing government finances and FDs demand full-time attention.
The government missed its self-imposed target of having a qualified FD in every
department by 2006 and its project partners admitted earlier this month that it
was two years off reaching that target. There are also fears of a brain drain in
Whitehall, and the move to IFRS has been put back ­ again ­ by another year.

The Treasury should be asking itself: does appointing a part-time head send
the right message that it cares about the state of the government’s books? It
doesn’t look like it.

comment@accountancyage.com

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