The macro-fiscal role of the U.K. whole of government account

Heald, D. and Georgiou, G. (2011) The macro-fiscal role of the U.K. whole of government account. Abacus, 47(4), pp. 446-476. (doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6281.2011.00348.x)

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The U.K. Whole of Government Account (WGA) has been conceived by the Treasury as having a macro-fiscal role. This WGA is about fiscal transparency at the aggregate level, rather than at a more disaggregated level with regard to public sector decision makers at tiers of government, each with their own chain of accountability. This paper analyses the U.K. conception of the WGA, examining its theoretical background and evolution since the 1995 decision to convert central government accounting from cash to accruals. The definition of the area of consolidation is governed by statute, the declared intention being to align as far as possible with the national accounts definitions that provide the basis for fiscal aggregates, thereby overriding IAS 27. Net liabilities per WGA is mapped in this paper to macro-fiscal aggregates, including public sector net debt (the U.K. preferred measure), general government gross debt (the EU preferred measure) and public sector net worth (national accounts). Conceptually, the WGA measure is situated between net debt (against which only liquid assets are netted) and the long-term cash projections developed by the Treasury. Insights are provided into the damage inflicted on U.K. public finances by a period of over-optimism about fiscal performance and the economy's heavy exposure to the global financial crisis. Fiscal retrenchment in all countries can have a substantial illusory component, as proposals may reduce some measures of deficit and debt at the expense of the public sector balance sheet, to which the WGA draws attention. These measures may include: privatizing state assets; neglecting existing public sector assets; cutting public sector capital expenditure; substituting public–private partnerships for conventional procurement; and posting bills to the future. The U.K. WGA may also institutionalize some protection against accounting arbitrage that distorts policy choices and fiscal reporting. Well-documented reconciliations between figures derived from national accounts and from IFRS-based financial reporting are therefore imperative for fiscal transparency.

Item Type:Articles
Keywords:Accounting arbitrage, Accruals accounting in government, Area of consolidation, Fiscal sustainability, Fiscal transparency, Macro-fiscal, Public sector net worth, U.K. fiscal policy, HG Finance
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Heald, Professor David and Georgiou, Dr George
Authors: Heald, D., and Georgiou, G.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > Adam Smith Business School > Accounting and Finance
Journal Name:Abacus
Publisher:Blackwell Publishing
ISSN (Online):1467-6281

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