The event, held just before the UK Budget for 2013, aimed to identify the gaps in public finance data and in political understanding and making recommendations for improvement. The questions asked included: 'Are parliamentarians and their constituents, let alone media and think-tank commentators sufficiently literate to make sense of the numbers? If not, how can this be addressed?'
Paul Moxey, head of corporate sector and risk at ACCA, attended the event and spoke there about the need for transparency. He explained: 'Fiscal transparency has become a philosophy of governments seeking to improve both finances and their own popularity. The drive for transparency has inspired governments to publish spending data, whole-of-government accounts, and a wide variety of other documents. This can only be a good thing.'
However Mr Moxey added that there can sometimes be a gap in understanding of what is produced and why, explaining: 'As an accountant, I am often asked if there can be true accountability if numbers are not properly understood? My answer is no; but then governments have a tough job to do in communicating complex information to many audiences, from civil servants to journalists and to the interested public.
'An example is the UK’s whole of government accounts, which consolidates the audited accounts of over 1,500 organisations across the whole public sector, so it is bound to be complicated; running to 243 pages it is still clear; but then I’m an accountant and am used to looking for the key issues.'
Paul Moxey also points to the need for trust and accountability, especially in the parliamentary system, highlighting the work of the Parliamentary Select Committees which have proved to be an important means for holding governments to account.
ACCA has highlighted in the past that training and development is key to understanding government finances. In ACCA’s recent report, Setting high professional standards for public services around the world, ACCA highlighted the need for fiscal transparency as being important for the benefit of the public.
Mr Moxey added: 'For the public to hold public services to account, information needs to be understandable, accessible, clear and timely. Therefore, ACCA is supportive of the definitions set out by the Centre of Public Scrutiny (UK) for promoting transparency, accountability and inclusiveness of information in public services. And for MPs, training and induction is also important when it comes to understanding public finances.'
Mr Moxey concluded: 'This was a timely and relevant event which showed that there is a need generally for more financial awareness among MPs, journalists and the public.'