Whole of Government Accounts will help assess Brexit impact, says PAC

25 Jan 19

The impact of Brexit on the UK public finances must be “comprehensive and clear”, the Public Accounts Committee said as it urged earlier publication of the annual Whole of Government Accounts.

Its report, published today, said the WGA is a “unique document which provides the most complete and accurate picture” of UK public finances, but the committee continues to be concerned that the time it takes to publish the document is limiting its effectiveness.

The report argued that the WGA will be “increasingly important” for accountability and transparency of the public finances in understanding the longer-term impact of Brexit on the public finances.

“The Treasury needs to assure the public and parliament that the WGA’s disclosures on the impact of Brexit will be comprehensive and clear,” the report said.

Efforts to reduce the time it takes to publish the WGA are underway in the Treasury and it plans to publish the 2017-18 accounts in May 2019 – 14 months after the end of the financial year. The 2016-17 WGA was published in June 2018.

PAC chair Meg Hillier said: “Uncertainty about the true costs of Brexit highlights the importance of producing the WGA in a more timely and transparent manner.

“This document offers the most complete picture of the UK’s public finances. But the 2016-17 WGA was published in June last year, some 15 months after the end of the financial year – a year in which the comptroller and auditor general qualified his opinion on government accounts for multiple reasons.

“That is too long to wait for information that could play a critical role in shaping decisions on public spending.”

The report also highlighted the PAC’s concerns over the end of the government’s lack of clarity as to what method of funding will be used to replace PF2 – which was dropped in the 2018 Autumn Budget. 

It said: “We are concerned that Treasury’s lack of a clear plan for what will replace PF2 risks the financial burden falling on the taxpayer.”

A Treasury spokesperson said: “We recognise the value of the Whole of Government Accounts, which is why we’ll publish this year’s report by May 2019 and aim to publish future reports within nine months of the financial year-end.”

The last edition of the WGA, for the 2016-17 financial year, showed the government’s liabilities outstripped its assets by £2.4 trillion.

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