Skip to main content

Brexit's impact on public finances must be made clear in accounts

25 January 2019

Public Accounts Committee publish report following their Whole of Government Accounts inquiry.

The Whole of Government Accounts (WGA) continues to be essential reading for anyone looking for a comprehensive view of the UK's public finances.

HM Treasury (the Treasury) has responded to the Committee's previous recommendations and improved the clarity, quality and usefulness of the WGA.

Whole Government Accounts must reassure public over long-term Brexit impact

However, we continue to be concerned that the time it takes to produce means that the WGA is still not achieving its potential as a tool for making decisions about the public finances.

While we welcome the Treasury's move towards using the WGA to help better manage the government's assets and liabilities, the Treasury's actions to maximise value from assets and reduce liabilities will need to be embedded in day-to-day financial management across government if they are to have a lasting impact.

There is more that could be done to improve how the WGA is used. Despite the overall aim of the WGA to enhance transparency, the Treasury doesn't fully understand who uses it, or how it is used.

The WGA will be increasingly important for accountability and transparency of the public finances in the future, particularly in enabling the public to understand the longer-term impact of Brexit on the public finances.

The Treasury needs to assure the public and Parliament that the WGA's disclosures on the impact of Brexit will be comprehensive and clear.

Chair's Comment

Comment from PAC Chair Meg Hillier MP

“The Whole of Government Accounts still don't tell the whole story.
 Uncertainty about the true costs of Brexit highlights the importance of producing the WGA in a more timely and transparent manner.

This document offers the most complete picture of the UK's public finances. But the 2016-17 WGA was published in June last year, some 15 months after the end of the financial year – a year in which the Comptroller & Auditor General qualified his opinion on Government accounts for multiple reasons.

That is too long to wait for information that could play a critical role in shaping decisions on public spending.

The Government has listened to concerns raised previously by our Committee but there is more it can and should do to improve the WGA's usefulness to taxpayers, Parliament and other decision-makers.

In the coming months we expect Government to explain how it intends to extend its commentary on the WGA; ensure the WGA is published more quickly, and encourage its use more widely.” 

Further information

Image: iStockphoto