Focus: Finance and Governance - Outlook - Public sector's appalling standards

It's nearly June, and many charities have not been paid by primary care trusts for work done in the past financial year.

Equally as bad, many charities cannot set firm budgets because PCTs are unable to confirm whether funding for essential voluntary sector services is going to continue.

We all feel very sorry about the redundancies taking place at many hospitals, but we should also think about the charity workers who do not know if they will have jobs in a month's time. Many treasurers are continuing to employ workers based on promises made over the phone by PCT staff, but will these hold true? Charities could fold because of the delay. Mental health and respite care services have been put at risk.

When doctors get it wrong they are disciplined or struck off. Why aren't public sector accountants treated in the same way? Why hasn't the Government asked what the accountancy profession is doing to put its house in order?

Could it be that with the Home Office unable to account for billions of taxpayers' money and the European Union never able to gets its accounts signed off by the auditors, appalling accountancy has become acceptable in the public sector?

Good quality public spending saves lives. Financial chaos kills, because people do not get the services they need.

In the voluntary and private sectors, those who qualify as chartered accountants receive peer-to-peer supervision within the profession as well as line management supervision at work. I have seen people cry at the threat of being disciplined by their professional association.

If public sector accountants felt they could be disciplined in the way doctors are, they would be much more likely to challenge decisions and blow the whistle on incompetent managers or poor committee decisions.

One London PCT spent £41,000 on an art director. In a charity, questions would soon be asked - how does this fit our charitable objectives? Is it a breach of trust? Could trustees be personally liable for spending this money? Should we talk to the insurance company about trustee liability?

Could the work be done by a volunteer or a local college?

Any accountant who is reporting to a committee that is financially inept has a duty to blow the whistle. Failure to do so should be considered by the disciplinary committee of the professional association.

There is some good news. In some PCTs all accountancy staff except the most junior book-keepers have been replaced.

The Government needs to learn that when it sets up something new, it is crucial to put in good accountancy systems from day one.

KEY POINTS

- Many charities have not been paid by primary care trusts for work done in the last financial year

- It is important that high standards of accountancy are enforced in the public sector.

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