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Public sector accrual accounting: institutionalising neo-liberal principles?

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of public sector accounting in implementing neoliberal reforms. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The proposition that the adoption and development of accrual accounting in the public sector is a technical development intended to improve transparency and accountability is investigated. The paper compares the development and use of accrual accounting in public sector financial management reforms in the UK and New Zealand. Findings ‐ The findings in this paper suggest that in both countries, accrual accounting, as developed, also provides a means to reduce the government's role to that of procurer of services and enforcer of rules set by others, thus advancing a controversial privatisation and trade liberalisation agenda which is consistent with neo-liberal principles. Research limitations/implications ‐ The paper shows that in contrast to more usual claims about the need for accrual accounting to provide a "read across between the sectors" or that public interest motives assure the neutrality of accounting, seemingly technical accrual accounting developments seem to function as a political tool to aid a controversial political agenda. There is a need to look at the overall effect of public sector financial management reforms and the role of, and implications for, accounting standard-setters. Originality/value ‐ The information in the paper applies to accounting the new political economics literature on agenda control and information based structures where control is achieved through information asymmetries.

Keywords: New Zealand; Public sector accounting; United Kingdom

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2007-07-31

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