Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Home Office Whelk Stall Fiasco

“It is disappointing that the Home Office had not maintained proper financial books and records for the financial year ending 31 March 2005 and has been unable to deliver its accounts for auditing by the statutory deadline." The measured tones of the Comptroller and Auditor General describing yet another shambles in the management of yet another major government department.

The Home Office costs £13bn pa and employs 73,000 staff. Yet it cannot properly account for where all that money goes.

Initially it seems to have been a matter of a footling £3m discrepancy. When the auditors discovered it, the department casually suggested writing it off. And why not? It's not their money after all. The auditors quite rightly rejected such cavalier fiddling.

Instead they insisted on a full drains-up. And guess what. They found that the £3m was just the bit that had floated to the surface. The drains soon disgorged a further £946m of "adjustments" required to balance the books. And even then, the books didn't balance.

In reality the department's basic financial accounting systems are virtually useless. The NAO's Report makes grim reading, but mentions: "...implementation of a new accounting system...Difficulties encountered in the transfer and cleansing of data...staff were not trained ...lack of understanding of the new accounting system...lack of skills...compounded by late recognition by management of serious problems... Management procedures... inadequate."

So we have another total shambles only too reminiscent of the DWP meltdown (as you may recall, they can only account to the nearest £500m, lose at least £3bn pa to fraud, and produce accounts of such mind-boggling unreliability that they've been qualified each and every year for the last fifteen).

We've said it before, but a whelk stall running like this would go out of business. If it didn't go bust, the authorities would close it down.

PS The Permanent Secretary in charge of the Home Office shambles was Sir John Gieve. He's now "been moved". To the Bank of England, where he's in charge of financial stability! You really couldn't make this stuff up.

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