Can't we keep things simple?

By Gary Fielding | 14 August 2019

I look back on the end of a financial year with mixed feelings. We have successfully navigated the statement of final accounts after some tremendous work from my superb finance team and some hard-pressed auditors.

At the same time I often marvel at how little value is derived from the accounts and wonder if we can’t serve the public interests better by keeping things simple?

This year has been particularly torrid, as many councils started with new external auditors. Add in the triennial valuation of the Local Government Pension Scheme, compounded by the McCloud judgment and the requirements that followed – just weeks before the 31 July deadline – and you have a perfect storm for finance teams across the country.

The Local Government Association and others have called for an extension to the accounts period to 30 September. I understand why. It must be tempting when you are in the thick of the action, but I am not sure I agree.

Good financial practice is one of the building blocks of good governance and decision-making, but I would much rather get my finance team off the financial accounts as quickly as possible and engaged in helping to provide financial management.

I also fear that Parkinson’s Law may apply and would like to know that last year was completed before we are half-way through the current year.

What is sure is that we need to look at how the financial regulatory environment works for councils.

We have the National Audit Office, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, Public Sector Audit Appoint-ments, the Financial Reporting Council, external auditors, the Government Actuary’s Department and a range of actuaries, all with a stake in arrangements, but it feels like it was at the expense of coherency.

The timing of the Redmond Review of local authority financial reporting and external audit is therefore most welcome.

Gary Fielding is president of the Society of County Treasurers and corporate director of strategic resources at North Yorkshire CC

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