Can accountants save the world?


Fixing the Foundations – an update on CIPFA’s international ambitions. By Alastair McMillen, chair CIPFA National Student Forum.

From partnering with the World Bank to an alliance with Ernst & Young, are you aware of the work CIPFA is doing internationally? Towards the end of 2011 CIPFA launched its ‘Fixing the Foundations’ campaign, calling for a global step-change in financial management in governments around the world. Both then and now the debt crisis in Europe and the continuing global financial crisis highlight just how damaging the consequences are of weak public financial management in government. The initiatives and developments emerging from the Fixing the Foundations campaign, and of course what these mean for students, are discussed here.

The need for a step-change is clear: poor financial management by governments impacts on public services, living standards and life chances. It adversely affects investor confidence, economic performance, and trust in government. And for governments making crucial decisions of national economic importance, it means that their decisions are based on incomplete, inaccurate, and out-of-date financial data. These difficulties exist in individual public sector organisations as well as national governments in all parts of the world and at all stages of economic development.

Improving public financial management is a critically important challenge, requiring concerted and co-ordinated international action at global, regional, national and local levels. With the campaign, CIPFA aims to achieve real impact and deliver outcomes which matter: high quality public services, economic growth and prosperity, and improvement in life chances. To do this CIPFA can’t just act alone; a range of partners who share the same vision and ambitions from international agencies to governments, banks, charitable foundations, accountancy bodies and others have been approached. Since launching the campaign CIPFA has entered into new alliances and begun working with a number of organisations on different projects.

Two of the areas where the greatest strides have been made are in supporting the implementation of International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSASs) and in training programmes to professionalise finance staff in developing countries.

IPSASs, developed by the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board (IPSASB) of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), aim to improve transparency by providing comparable standards across boundaries based on one accrual-based accounting financial reporting system.  Just like International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) for the private sector, IPSASs present an accurate and comparable view of financial performance. This allows organisations to make decisions that are better informed and stakeholders to access fuller information about the financial consequences of political decisions as well as the financial situation of governments. CIPFA has joined forces with Ernst & Young to provide a range of support services to help organisations and governments implement IPSAS. Working with the Commonwealth Secretariat, CIPFA has brought together accountants-general across the Commonwealth to advance the implementation of IPSAS in their countries. And CIFPA will be launching a certificate which will provide certified training in IPSAS to finance staff around the world.

Professionalisation is the second major area where the impact of Fixing the Foundations can be seen. Whilst CIPFA has been active in providing training programmes to improve and grow capacity within countries for a number of years, often in partnership with donors such as the World Bank, the development of the International Public Financial Management (IPFM) qualification programme and the recruitment of a cadre of Accredited Training Partners are accelerating what has been steady progress to date. The IPFM programme, four separate but integrated qualifications that ultimately lead to full CIPFA membership, is also to be supported by online learning making it accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world.

The National Student Forum (NSF), representing all CIPFA students, will keep students informed of the developments and outcomes of the Fixing the Foundations campaign.  As a student member of the institute the international work CIPFA is doing really does affect you, it isn’t just behind the scenes activity happening somewhere else in the world. You are part of a network of committed people focusing on improving the lives of others, often in developing countries, through better public financial management. A growing number of CIPFA members work outside the UK in governments, other public sector bodies or for organisations such as the World Bank, the IMF and the United Nations. The mutual recognition agreements with other accountancy bodies in Canada, New Zealand and Australia, among others, have raised the profile of CPFAs and more agreements with other accountancy bodies will follow.

In campaigning to make high quality public financial management the norm across public services around the globe, CIPFA is making deep and long-lasting changes to PFM and to the institute - a truly exciting time to be a CIPFA student.

Find out more about Fixing the Foundations.