Accrual Accounting in Public Sector

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In the present age, accounting seems to be an indispensable tool for modern business activities. However, not only for the profit orientated commercial business, it also plays an important role in the non-profit profit organizations, such as public sectors. Moreover, due to several deficiencies and drawbacks of government accounting and financial-management systems, such as unclear accountability, poorly maintained assets and hided losses and long-term liabilities, reforms in the public sector have been conducted over the last several decades across the word from New Zealand, Australia to England (Ball and et al, 1999). Accounting innovation by implementing accrual accounting in the public sector is one of the major part of the reforms and an important element of the wider concept of the so called New Public Management, and draws much of public concern and debate (Connolly and Hyndman, 2006). Under this background, this essay is going to discuss the implications arising from the process of implementing and actual using of accrual accounting in the public sector in several aspects, and try to put forward some possible solutions.

Generally, two main accounting methods are use to determine when and how to record income and expenses in the books, namely, cash accounting and accrual accounting. The major difference between these two is the timing of when the transactions are recorded in the account (Tudor and Mutiu, 2006). To be specific, under the cash accounting method, income and payment are not counted until cash is actually received or made; while under the accrual accounting basis, transactions are recorded as soon as they incurred, regardless whether the cash is received or made. Comparing to cash accounting, accruals accounting place more emphasis on how the capital assets used and recorded (Connolly and Hyndman, 2006). More reliable figures of performance based on revenues earned and resources consumed will be achieved through accruals accounting. Owning to this, it is believed that accruals accounting will contribute to better longer-term perspective of governmental policies, resource management and decision making (Ball and et al, 1999); and both internal and external transparency may be enhanced. Moreover, it is also considered that comparability between different government departments will be improved, even between the pre and post privatization (Wynne, 2004 and FEE, 2006).

Although several potential advantages are suggested that will be brought by implementing accrual accounting in the public sector, it is still under debate that whether it is really appropriate to use accrual accounting system, which is initially devised for private sector, in the public sector (CESifo, 2007). In the private sector, commonly, accounting tends to be seen as a neutral technology to record past activities and provide financial and other necessary information to operate the business more efficiently and profitable. However, due to the difference in the nature and role of the public sector, this description seems not appropriate. For example, the primary purpose of public sector accounting is not serving to generate more profit but controlling people’s behavior to protect public money (Ellwood and Newberry, 2007), and the ultimate users are electorate instead of stakeholders (CESifo, 2007). Due to the fundamental mismatch of the objects, potential inadaptable problems may emerge during utilization (Carlin, 2005).

As for the incurred cost of implementation and operation of an accrual accounting, in the North Ireland (NI) case study conducted by Connolly and Hyndman (2006), almost all the “overseers” and “Operational Accountants” believed that the views of cost neutral of the transition process, which came up by the UK HM Treasury, are not conform to the reality. Besides that, another case study based on UK and Republic of Ireland (RoI) , the result also revealed that all the interviewees questioned the value of the changes...
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