Welsh Government breaches statutory deadline for annual accounts by months “due to payout”
Welsh Government should have finalised their accounts by November, however an MS has said ‘due to a payout’ that legal deadline has been missed.
North Wales MS Mark Isherwood in his role as Chair of the Welsh Parliament’s Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee, made a formal Statement in the Senedd this week to place the Committee’s concerns over the problem on the public record and “ensure that the wider Senedd is aware of the issue”.
Mr Isherwood stressed that the delay has undermined the Committee’s ability to scrutinise the Accounts, which “will include significant public expenditure arising from the pandemic, which is a matter of public interest”.
Mr Isherwood said, “Members may be aware that there has been a significant delay in signing off the Welsh Government’s 2020-21 annual accounts. To provide context, the previous Public Accounts Committee would usually undertake detailed scrutiny of these accounts annually during the autumn term, and we had hoped to continue with this in the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee during this term. To provide context, as I’ve said, this has has always occurred.
“The Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee was informally made aware last summer by both the Welsh Government and the Auditor General for Wales that the Welsh Government’s accounts for 2020-21 may be finalised later than usual.
“We were told that the delay was due to the additional work being undertaken by Audit Wales on support to business grants provided by Welsh Government.”
The committee was expecting that to be done no later than November 2021, “which is within the statutory time frame for doing so”.
The committee “…were alerted to a further delay, when the Welsh Government needed to advise Audit Wales of a potential post-balance-sheet event in order to ensure full transparency.”
Mr Isherwood gave some limited detail to what that was about, “I must stress that we cannot discuss the specific reason for the delay. Until the accounts are signed, we are not able to discuss this, as it is not in the public domain and, as we understand, could even be subject to legal proceedings. ”
He added, “The committee was becoming increasingly concerned about its ability to scrutinise the Welsh Government on these important matters. This delay has resulted in statutory deadlines for financial reporting being missed. And, given that we are referring to the accounts of a Government, it is important that this matter and the concerns of the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee are placed on the public record and raised in this Chamber”.
It appears the whole process will be reviewed as Mr Isherwood pointed out various timings are to ensure that public accountability, scrutiny and reporting to Her Majesty’s Treasury can take place within a reasonable time frame – but obviously without the submissions there is nothing to look at – he noted, “…there are no safeguards built into the process that prevent this, thus hindering scrutiny”.
The Committee appear unswayed with their task, “I also want to place on the record that the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee takes these matters very seriously and we will not rush or be pressurised into curtailing our scrutiny once the accounts have been published.”
“We anticipate these to be a more complex set of accounts, with several important issues, which we will need the time to scrutinise in detail publicly. We’re well aware that these accounts will include significant public expenditure arising from the pandemic, which is a matter of public interest. It is imperative that we undertake this work, fulfil our role in the financial accountability cycle, and instil public confidence that we are holding the Welsh Government to account on its expenditure. We hope that we can look forward to being able to undertake this work in the autumn term accordingly.”
In the short debate that followed Natasha Asghar MS called ‘a spade a spade’ and stated, “Publishing the annual accounts has been delayed due to a Welsh Government payout; it’s a simple as that. I expressed concerns previously and said exactly the same words during a business statement right here in this Chamber on 18 January 2022 about the delay, which in my opinion has hindered the work of the public accounts committee in scrutinising and holding the Welsh Government to account.”
Ms Asghar added, “As a country, each year, countless individuals and businesses across the UK have to legally submit their returns to HMRC and Companies House, or face a fine for the delay. No-one likes to be fined, including me and many of my constituents in south-east Wales, and I’m sure all across Wales, and quite frankly, I’m just astounded by the delay here in the Welsh Government, and by the Welsh Government’s lack of embarrassment for this.
“I would like to pay sincere tribute to my learned colleague Mike Hedges, who, week after week, month after month, has enquired about the updates to the accounts to simply no avail. I must also praise the auditor general and his team for his patience in this matter.
Top pic: The Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee this week – the above statements took place during a Plenary session in the main chamber.
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