Scottish Government in financial reporting call

Caroline Gardner stressed the importance of good reporting. Picture: Comp

Caroline Gardner stressed the importance of good reporting. Picture: Comp

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The Scottish Government should improve its financial reporting before new tax and borrowing powers take effect, according to auditors.

A more open approach is needed to pull together the 100 or so public accounts and give a clear picture of finances, Audit Scotland suggested in a report.

The call comes in the run-up to new powers agreed in the Scotland Act, which include additional borrowing and responsibility for a Scottish rate of income tax.

Further powers cover stamp duty and landfill tax.

Audit Scotland looked at all public accounts, estimating they show an £8 billion deficit between assets and liabilities.

The calculation is based on assets worth £86 billion and liabilities of £94 billion in 2011-12.

Assets include property and equipment, while liabilities cover areas such as pensions.

Uncertainties

The figure, heavily qualified in the report, reflects the overall financial position but does not necessarily mean there are “immediate risks” to finances.

“Our analysis serves to highlight that the inherent uncertainties associated with the valuation of some assets and liabilities increases the importance of having transparent, comprehensive and reliable financial information,” the report states.

Caroline Gardner, Auditor General for Scotland, said: “Scotland will soon enter a new era of fiscal and financial autonomy as the Scotland Act is implemented over the next three years and the Scottish Parliament gets new tax and borrowing powers.

“Comprehensive, transparent and reliable financial reporting will become even more important for public accountability and confidence.

“Public bodies’ audited accounts are a sound base but they do not give a complete picture of what Scotland’s devolved public sector owns, owes, spends and receives.

“The global financial crisis highlighted the importance of having a thorough understanding of a government’s assets and liabilities and of the key risks to a government’s financial position.

“The Scottish Government needs to further develop its financial reporting in discussion with the Scottish Parliament. This report is a contribution to that process. It illustrates key issues and suggests particular areas for consideration, such as the forecasting of tax receipts and the long-term consequences of funding assets from borrowing.”

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