Whole of Government Accounts show much-needed transparency on public spending, but more can be done, says ACCA | ACCA Global
ACCA - The global body for professional accountants
Making data widely available should not been seen as a substitute for effective financial scrutiny by parliaments. These accounts can only be meaningful if decision makers are analysing them and reflecting on them for making sound, transparent and accountable future policy decisions. The whole point with these accounts is that Government can demonstrate the importance of the quality of information available, including financial and service delivery, to help inform decision making for the future
—Gillian Fawcett, head of public sector, ACCA

The Whole of Government Accounts (WGA), published by the Treasury, shine a spotlight on public spending in the UK, but ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) believes this important financial document can bring better benefits for financial decision making across Government

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published a report yesterday into the WGA for 2010-11. One of its main concerns is the relevance and timeliness of these last set of accounts, with the Treasury publishing the audited WGA for the financial year 2010-11 in October 2012. Because it took 19 months to publish this, it means the information it contains is out-of-date.

ACCA believes that strong public financial management is critical to improving the quality of public service outcomes, decision-making and long-term sustainability of public services. 

Gillian Fawcett, head of public sector at ACCA, says: 'Producing the WGA is no mean feat and the Treasury should be congratulated for its commitment to producing these accounts. However, ACCA questions whether these accounts represent true transparency and accountability. 

'The need for financial transparency has encouraged many governments, from the UK to Australia, to publish spending data in Whole of Government Accounts, but research shows that more data does not mean better information. The sheer volume and detail of such accounts can diminish the accountability that they originally seek to promote.'

Gillian Fawcett concludes: 'Making data widely available should not been seen as a substitute for effective financial scrutiny by parliaments. These accounts can only be meaningful if decision makers are analysing them and reflecting on them for making sound, transparent and accountable future policy decisions. The whole point with these accounts is that Government can demonstrate the importance of the quality of information available, including financial and service delivery, to help inform decision making for the future.'

The Whole of Government Accounts (WGA) were published for the first time in 2011, and over 1,500 public bodies are included in this accounting report. it represents Government spending across all departments. 

In a new project for 2013/14, ACCA will be calling for a review of the impact of consolidated accounts across a range of users from institutional investors, the public, parliaments, credit rating agencies, and across the countries around the world that already produce WGAs - Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, Sweden, UK and US. The objective of this study is to evaluate the whole of government consolidated accounts impact on a range of external users across a potential sample of up to four countries identified above.