UK Government Accounts set a new high standard


CIPFA welcomes the publication of the UK’s Whole of Government Accounts (WGA). The accounts were released as George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, delivered his Autumn Statement to Parliament this afternoon. Only a handful of other countries have produced equivalent consolidated financial statements. The UK is the first to publish accounts covering the whole of the public sector including both central and local services.

Publication of WGA places the UK at the international forefront of government reporting and is a major step forward in terms of transparency and accountability. Taxpayers, commentators and the public at large can now see audited summary information about the public finances for the first time.

The Comptroller and Auditor General has issued a qualified opinion on the accounts. This is a reflection of the scale of the technical challenge involved in preparing WGA for the first time. Going forward, Government will no doubt be looking to address and remove these qualifications, as well as to report earlier after the close of the relevant financial year.

The publication of WGA highlights the risks that governments around the world take in managing fiscal policy using the National Accounts produced by statistical offices alone rather than complementing them with accounts prepared in accordance with internationally recognised financial reporting standards. The latter provide significantly more information on assets and liabilities such as public service pensions, costs of nuclear decommissioning and liabilities under PFI contracts enabling governments to make better informed economic decisions.

For example, the UK’s current deficit rises by around £58bn (from £107bn to £165bn) when its accounts are prepared using International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) compared with National Accounts, and its net liabilities increase by £452bn (from £760bn to £1,212bn), as IFRS based accounts include amounts (such as pensions) not included in National Accounts.

CIPFA has recently launched an initiative calling for a co-ordinated and concerted global effort to improve reporting, auditing and public financial management practices by governments around the world. We believe that this is a critical underlying issue in the current sovereign debt crises. WGA is an excellent example of the higher reporting standards which we want all governments to meet.

Ian Carruthers, CIPFA’s Policy and Technical Director commented:

‘Today’s WGA publication is undoubtedly a huge step forward in terms of transparency and public accountability. In addition to addressing the qualification issues, the task now is to use this new information to support management of the UK’s public finances. The sovereign debt crisis underlines some of the risks which can arise if government accounts fail to inspire market confidence. Hence CIPFA’s urgent call to international agencies, governments and other prospective partners to work with us to secure a step change in public financial management internationally.’



Contact: Tim Windle

CIPFA Press Office

t 020 7543 5787



Notes to editors

  • The Whole of Government Accounts is based on International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), the system of accounts used internationally by the private sector. It complements the National Accounts figures, produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which follow the internationally agreed National Accounts system.  The two systems of accounting have evolved independently, use different international standards and have been designed to suit different purposes.
  • The Whole of Government Accounts received a qualified audit opinion.  Qualifications and limitations of scope related to the definition of public bodies used to determine the boundary of the WGA; the inconsistent application of accounting standards; the accounting treatment of income from the sale of 3G licences; a lack of evidence to fully support the adjustments to remove transactions and balances between the bodies included in the WGA; and issues regarding the accounts of one body that is included in the WGA.  The Treasury has plans to address all these issues in future years.
  • In the prospectus, CIPFA argues that weak public financial management is regrettably commonplace in countries at all stages of development. As a result, governments currently grappling with sovereign debt issues, emergency budgets, fiscal stimulation measures, and austerity programmes are often making decisions of strategic long-term significance based on incomplete, inaccurate and/or out-of-date financial information. CIPFA is calling for a co-ordinated and concerted global effort as the only way to address these issues at the scale and pace required to avert further financial failures in years to come.



CIPFA, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, is the professional body for people in public finance. As the world’s only professional accountancy body to specialise in public services, CIPFA’s portfolio of qualifications are the foundation for a career in public finance. We also champion high performance in public services, translating our experience and insight into clear advice and practical services. Globally, CIPFA shows the way in public finance by standing up for sound public financial management and good governance.