Treasury working to publish Whole of Government Accounts earlier

19 Nov 18

Treasury officials are aiming to bring forward the publication of the Whole of Government Accounts for the next financial year, MPs have been told.

The department wants to release the accounts 50 to 60 days earlier in 2019-20, the Public Accounts Committee was told in an evidence session on 14 November.

WGA is a single set of accounts consolidating the financial activities of the whole of the UK public sector, including central government departments, devolved governments, local authorities, the NHS and public corporations such as the Bank of England.

James Bowler, director general of public spending at the Treasury, said: “We were quicker last year – 15 days quicker – and we want to be quicker in the year coming, aiming for a May in the coming year and preferably by the end of the financial year thereafter”.

For the 2019-20 accounts, Bowler said the department expects to shave between 50 and 60 days off the release date and said: “We are trying to move forward in two monthly increments”.

The panel of Treasury officials told the committee this would allow greater planning. The PAC is inquiring into the usefulness of WGA.

The latest set of WGA available relate to 2016-17 and were published in June this year, more than a year after the end of the financial year to which they relate.

Bowler said the two biggest factors in getting accounts on time were academy schools, for which there are over 3,000 sets of accounts, and local government accounts.

“We are moving the timetable forward for local government, which is the other large set of accounts, from September to July,” he said.

He added: “Those are the two big blocks. As those get quicker we can do quite a considerable amount of work, which then gets audited by the National Audit Office too.”

This year was the first year that local authorities had an earlier reporting deadline, which came forward from September to July.

Vicky Rock, head of financial reporting policy at the Treasury, said: “By moving [the reporting deadline] forward by two months, we have actually received better compliance than the year before.

“That was a big risk and a big worry for us about how the local authority sector would handle that timetable but actually we are incredibly grateful for the engagement we got.”

Last month, Public Sector Audit Appointments reported that most local authorities had complied with the earlier reporting deadline, although 64 were late.

According to the last set of WGA revealed the government had a £2.4trn net liability and were once again qualified by the NAO.

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