Treasury ‘must do better’ on Whole of Government Accounts

24 May 19

The spending watchdog has called for “further progress” on the level of information given by departments for the Whole of Government Accounts.

Total government expenditure for 2017-18 reached £815bn for the year ending March 31 2018, according to the WGA released yesterday.

It also showed the UK government’s income in 2017-18 was £760.9bn – compared to £720.8bn in 2016-17. Its expenditure was £814.8 billion – expenditure in 2016-17 was £760.7 billion.

But in response to the release, the National Audit Office said today: “While government is improving the financial information that forms the WGA, further progress is necessary.”

It added: “The Treasury has responded to previous concerns from the Committee of Public Accounts about the time it takes to publish the accounts, doing so quicker and earlier this year.

“The Treasury is also making progress to encourage wider use of WGA in informing decisions, but more needs to be done to embed the WGA as part of government’s routine financial management.”

The comptroller and auditor general concluded the WGA gives a “true and fair view of the state of the WGA affairs and expenditure”. Although, he has again qualified his opinion on specific areas in the accounts.

In the NAO report, it noted that the auditor general had given a qualified opinion for the Ministry of Defence and Department for Education, which suggests the information given may be limited in its scope. 

“HM Treasury will need to carry out significant work with other government bodies to make further improvements, in particular the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Education,” the NAO said.  

The WGA analyses the accounts of over 8,000 public sector bodies and sets out what the government receives, pays and owes.

An NAO response to the WGA published today said the WGA “provides the most complete and accurate picture of the financial performance and position of the UK public sector”. 

The director general of public spending at the Treasury James Bowler previously told the PAC that the two biggest contributors to delays were accounts from academy schools and local government accounts.

The WGA shows that the value of government’s long-term liabilities continues to rise and risks to their affordability “will need to be managed effectively”, the NAO noted.

Net public sector pension liabilities are £1,865bn, the equivalent to over £68,000 per UK household and 92% of GDP.

The NAO concluded: “In continuing to improve the WGA, the NAO recommends the Treasury must: be more transparent about which elements of the production process it can control and which it cannot; provide more detail on government spending.”

It also suggested the Treasury should consider using the WGA to report on government’s management of significant financial risks.

The Treasury has been contacted for comment.

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