HM Treasury today published the 9th Whole of Government Accounts (WGA). For those that don’t know about WGA, it is an IFRS based set of financial statements that consolidates most government entities (over 8,000) including central government departments and agencies, devolved administrations, local authorities and public corporations.
The accounts provide a more comprehensive analysis of the public finances than official fiscal numbers. That is because it has a complete balance sheet recognising all assets and liabilities, including those not shown in the fiscal numbers such as long-term liabilities. The main draw-back is the length of time it takes to publish.
The latest edition features a comprehensive ‘overview and performance analysis’ section (73 pages) which does a really good job of putting the figures into context and explaining, at a high level, the key drivers behind ‘UK PLC’. The data still lacks granularity in places, for example purchases of goods and services amount to £212bn without any meaningful breakdown. This has been acknowledged in the accounts (explanation of the difficulties in breaking down purchases of goods and services can be found on page 60), which makes me hopeful that this will improve going forwards.
HM Treasury states that they have to balance timeliness, cost effectiveness and quality of the accounts. Furthermore, any changes to WGA disclosures that require significant financial outlay would need to be carefully considered (see 3.23 on page 84). This pretty much admits that WGA could be better and timelier but that the cost of doing so is prohibitive. Not a statement you would probably find in a private sector annual report.
We have already carried out some high level analysis of WGA 2017-18, which can be accessed here. To access the account itself, please click here.
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