Introducing ACCA’s fourth international public sector conference, Anthony Harbinson, the Vice President of ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) said today that good economic governance should lie at the heart of public sector finance, alongside consistent, transparent and holistic financial information.
Mr Harbinson added that these issues are particularly important for the public sector due to on-going global sovereign debt issues and the fluctuations of the world economy, adding that both growth and austerity bring specific challenges.
Rebalancing the economy – boosting growth is the theme of the conference, at which Mr Harbinson said that finance professionals working in the public sector play a pivotal role in dealing with the financial challenges faced by public bodies.
He also spoke about the ‘value’ of the public sector, adding that as many economies around the world attempt to pull themselves out of one of the worst financial crises for decades, questions are increasingly being asked about the quality of government accounting and reporting and the value of audit.
Anthony Harbinson reminded the audience that the amount of expenditure on public services is significant - government expenditure accounts for more than one-third of GDP in most countries, adding: 'Given the sheer scale of expenditure and arena in which they operate, there is a pressing need for finance professionals in the public sector to encourage and embrace even greater transparency to underpin the enhanced financial management skills adopted in the sector in recent years.'
Mr Harbinson also commented on audit in the public sector: 'Given the amount of money we work with, ACCA strongly believes that external and internal audit make a valuable contribution to providing re-assurance to both public sector managers and taxpayers. Audit – whether in the public or private sectors - has a valuable role in promoting public confidence and trust.'
He concluded: 'Governments around the world are wrestling with a number of difficult and complex challenges – ageing population, healthcare costs, reform of welfare support, provision of quality education, the environment and climate change, defence costs and protection of natural resources to name a few. Each of these have to be dealt with at a time when the global economic crisis has impacted on the public sector in most jurisdictions. As a result, the public sector has to operate in a world of spending restrictions, of budget cuts, of greater efficiencies – at a time when cuts are unpalatable to many tax payers.'
Speakers at the event included:
- Carl Emmerson, deputy director, Institute of Fiscal Studies
- Gary Gillespie, director and chief economist for Scotland's government
- Mario Marcel, deputy director of the Public Governance and Territorial Development Directorate, OECD
- Fabian Zuleeg, chief economist, European Policy Centre
- Brian Quinn, director, Loan Department, World Bank
- Richard Hughes, economist, IMF
- Alexandre Makaronidis, head of unit - GFS quality management and government accounting at DG Eurostat.