Accounting against the Clock
Faster Closure of accounts in Wales – are we all up for the challenge?
The Good Practice Exchange will shortly be holding two Faster Closing seminars in Cardiff and North Wales. John Herniman from our Senior Leadership Team shares his views on Faster Closing and what it means for Wales.
We’ve heard a lot in recent months about the faster closing of accounts. In England, both Oldham and Westminster Councils beat their previous records for closing their accounts, doing so by the end of May. Closer to home, Torfaen County Borough Council closed its 2014/15 accounts in record time, 10 weeks ahead of the deadline. There is also the continued pressure to speed up the publication of the annual Whole of Government Accounts into which Local Government bodies accounts are consolidated.
As we all know, the current deadlines for the production and audit of Local Government bodies’ accounts are 30 June and 30 September respectively. The Welsh Government has recently consulted on bringing these dates forward to 31 May and 31 July over the next few years. Whilst the earlier deadlines may seem like a distant challenge not to be concerned about just yet, the scale of the changes required for practitioners and auditors alike means that planning needs to start now.
What are the benefits?
As daunting as it might seem, we know that there are many benefits of faster closure. These include, but are not limited to, improving the timeliness of reporting to stakeholders and having earlier assurance over the previous year’s position before embarking on major financial decisions for the future. The private sector and other parts of the public sector all close their accounts earlier so the question for me is ‘Where do we start?’
Faster Closure in Wales
Our Good Practice Exchange seminars in October and November will give us insight into how particular organisations started their journey. These seminars are not going to be focused on detailed processes but rather the organisational and cultural changes needed to start the journey. Further seminars and workshops will be held over the coming years exploring the more detailed aspects of faster closing.
The organisations involved will share with us their approaches and most importantly, the lessons learnt from achieving earlier closure of accounts. For me personally, hearing about the challenges that they faced at the early stages and how they overcame them will be of particular interest
A new challenge
There is no doubt that the faster closing agenda will bring major challenges for both practitioners and auditors as we work together to develop and learn from new ways of working. I remember the last time the closure dates were brought forward, from the end of December to September. Back then that sounded impossible but it quickly became the norm with the tighter deadlines being achieved.
Faster closure is a learning curve for all of us; insights from Torfaen, Oldham, Kent and Westminster will provide us all with a chance to be working from the same page so that we have a good starting point as we embark on their faster closing journey.