Department’s new OSCAR II platform encountered ‘capacity issues’ over the summer
The Treasury has warned that is likely to miss the anticipated publication date for the next annual breakdown of public sector finances after thousands of government bodies encountered problems with the IT system through which they can file financial figures.
Featuring contributions from 10,000 organisations, the Whole of Government Accounts (WGA) is intended to provide “a comprehensive, accounts-based picture of the financial position of the UK public sector”.
The OSCAR platform through which public bodies provide yearly financial statements to the Treasury was replaced late last year by its successor: OSCAR II.
In a letter sent to parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, Treasury director general for public spending Cat Little told MPs that problems with the OSCAR II database had cropped up over the summer. As a result of these issues, about two-thirds of public sector organisations due missed their scheduled deadline for submitting accounts information for the 2020/21 year.
“New system capacity issues have emerged over the summer months and at times some entities have had difficulty in accessing and using the system,” she said. “These performance issues have impacted all processes that use OSCAR II and have not been isolated to WGA.”
Little added: “In light of the performance issues, we moved the data submission deadline back from 31 August to 30 September 2022. System performance has improved over the last month, but we continue to monitor it closely and work with our supplier, Deloitte, to address capacity constraints.”
These issues mean it is now “unlikely” that the Treasury will hit its own target of publishing the Whole of Government Accounts for FY21 by March 2023. She said discussions were ongoing about what might constitute a realistic timeline.
The WGA brings together spending data from around 10,000 organisations, including central government departments, NHS bodies, councils and schools. The latest figures show that the UK public sector spent £918.7bn on public services and collected revenue of £813.3bn in 2019-20.
Little said only “a little over one third” of the entities that feed into the WGA had submitted their accounts by the 30 September deadline and acknowledged that problems with OSCAR II were not the only issue.
“A number of departments have notified us that they will not be able to submit audited data until the end of October 2022, which is of course disappointing, and we are engaging with them to expedite their returns,” she said.
Other issues affecting the accounts include failings in the local-government audit market in England and Wales that mean increasing numbers of councils have been unable to meet submissions deadlines because their accounts have not been audited.
A report published by PAC last week noted that the 2019-20 WGA, which was published in July, contained unaudited and therefore “unreliable” data for 29 local authorities, and excluded a further 23 councils altogether.
The report suggested problems with local-government audit would escalate further and the Treasury’s proposed workarounds could have “negative consequences” for the quality of the data contained in the WGA.