Resource Accounting Training and Trigger Point 3 Assurance - Review Paper
1.1 This paper reviews the findings of the recent TP3 training assurances and looks forward to issues raised and how these could be progressed over the coming months.
2.1 Further monitoring of progress should be considered where one of the following instances is in evidence:
3.1 As part of TP3 departments were requested to provide a detailed assurance that adequate RAB training programmes were in place and underway to ensure staff had the necessary skills to interpret, analyse and use the information generated by RAB.
3.2 The assurance was a way of departments demonstrating the adequacy of their training arrangements against a predetermined set of criteria agreed between the departments and the Treasury. In addition to this monitoring role the Treasury offered departments advice and examples of best practice when putting together the assurances and the opportunity to submit draft papers for scrutiny.
3.3 The requirement for a formal assurance to be provided was as a direct result of the need for increased accountancy skills in both departments and agencies being raised by both the PAC and NAO. The PAC (67th Report of the 1997/98 Session) made the point that departments would need to ensure that training programmes were in place to provide their staff with the necessary professional competencies; and that they then actually use the information systems in the management of their organisations and performance.
3.4 In his 1997-98 General Report, the Comptroller and Auditor General expressed his concern about the standard of preparation of accounts submitted to him for audit which departments attributed in part to a lack of sufficiently qualified staff.
3.5 A checklist was issued to PFOs setting out the key arrangements departments would need to confirm were in place when providing an assurance that adequate RAB training programmes exist. Key areas for confirmation were :
4.1 - Initial work
From the training assurances received, both in draft and final format, departments have invested considerable time and effort in an attempt to ensure that their staff are ready for the introduction of Resource Accounting and Budgeting. A number of departments have demonstrated that they have carried out extensive training needs analysis (TNA) exercises prior to devising training plans. This has been completed via skills audits, in depth analysis of jobs and tasks thus producing comprehensive job specifications and by contracting external training suppliers to independently evaluate finance posts and the impact which RAB will have on them. One significant outcome of this work has been the increase in the number of departments using this information to develop and implement their own finance competency framework.
4.2 - Training Plans
The end result of this work has been to devise training plans that meet the needs not only of the department but also individuals. In particular, some of the larger departments have introduced their own suite of ‘building block’ training course to cater for their professional and non-professional accountancy staff.
4.3 - Shortfall in assurances
In the main, most departments have successfully met the requirements of TP3 but throughout the process of reviewing assurances certain questions have been raised time and time again. The prime omission has been regarding the scope of the training being undertaken, i.e. details of the number of people who either have been or are to be trained. The guidelines requested that details of training plans were included but assurances failed to specifically address this area. Whilst confirming that training was under way more often than not there was no indication of when each element of training would be completed and, in certain instances, it became obvious that there was no clear plan in place; training was being delivered ad hoc to meet the pressures and requirements of the moment.
4.4 - Long term commitment
The TP3 exercise has confirmed that short term RAB training, in the majority of departments, is in place but there remains a question mark over the longer term commitment to training not only of new staff, but in ensuring that new found skills are kept up to date. There is little evidence of any consideration being given to this aspect the focus has been, and justifiably so, on the current needs of staff and the department.
4.5 - Monitoring
In contrast evidence has been offered relating to the monitoring of progress made and most departments have confirmed that they have systems in place whereby if training is not delivered according to their timetable remedial action would be taken. NAO letters have clearly indicated that there are instances where training has not been delivered to coincide with the implementation of RAB or to meet the requirements set out by the Treasury, as part of the trigger points. Conclusions can be drawn that in certain instances monitoring regimes in place have not been robust enough and have allowed weaknesses to develop in departments’ ability to produce accounts.
4.6 - Evaluation
Long term commitment and monitoring can be closely linked to evaluating training against the departmental requirement and those of individuals. Departments have tended to concentrate on the immediate success and benefits of courses, feedback from attendees being on the whole very positive. The opportunity to attend specific courses has been well received and viewed as beneficial, not only to business units but to individuals, however, few departments have put in place plans for longer term evaluation.
4.7 Whilst being part of the assurance criteria it could be argued that long term evaluation is not yet a current issue as most departments will not have completed the implementation of RAB until the latter part of 2000/2001. It is envisaged that this will become an area that departments will need to address in the coming year, especially if NAO were to examine progress made since their last audit and the return on investment in relation to the money spent by some departments on training and awareness exercises. With this in mind action has already been taken to set up two working groups, main and small departments, to explore evaluation requirements and best practice.
4.8 - Conclusion
One positive outcome of the RAB training delivered to date is that the profile of general finance awareness skills appears to have improved, being recognised as a required competency in certain areas. Departments are also reporting a good uptake for non-mandatory finance training and the number of people, at all levels, expressing an interest in pursuing professional accountancy qualifications is on the increase.
5 - Follow up
5.1 There are a number of areas where DART will need to contact departments to ensure that RAB is implemented in the fullness of time and in accordance with Treasury guidelines (see annex A). It is perceived that it will be easier, and beneficial to departments, to follow up specific points on a one to one basis. This basis will allow departments, with the assistance of DART, to produce time bound plans to address problem areas prior to the end of the financial year.
5.2 Typical areas that may require further support and assistance to obtain the required information include clarification of target audiences, with volumes, where information was either not available, or was unclear, when the TP3 assurance was submitted, confirmation that training scheduled for completion during 2000/1 is complete, where long term training plans were not evident to contact departments to ensure these are in place and to offer advice on what areas should be addressed.
5.3 Similarly where training needs analysis, training plans and associated training programmes were under development these should be monitored to ensure they are completed. DART should offer guidance on best practice and encourage departments to share previously developed material to aid the training of staff. In all areas where outstanding issues exist DART should ensure that actions taken meet the requirements laid down in the TP3 guidelines
5.4 Where NAO have highlighted weaknesses in a departments ability to produce robust and accurate accounts, DART will need to make contact with the department to ascertain what, if any support and assistance they can give in this area. Departments where core competencies papers are being developed and implemented it would be advantageous for DART to contact the parties as the current FTC guidelines are to be updated and their input will be valuable to this being achieved
5.5 There are two further areas where all departments will need to be contacted: how they have undertaken RB training and long term evaluation of finance training in general, not just RAB.
Number of departments impacted by outstanding issues & problem areas re TP3 Training Assurance