Financial Management, 63 Portland Place, London W1B 1AB; financialmanagement@cimaglobal.com

Public disagreement

Ian Elrick's argument (Letters, FM February 2001) that the NAO and PAC are to blame for continuing risk aversion in the public sector only risks perpetuating the problem. As chief executive of the Benefits Agency, I appeared before PAC on a number of occasions. Since the agency is accountable for over 100 [pounds sterling] billion of government expenditure, as a taxpayer, I would expect this to be the case irrespective of the results.

The NAO is responsible for auditing public expenditure and the PAC is the parliamentary body for reviewing the effectiveness of this expenditure. I have seen changes in behaviour over my five years in the post and I believe they both recognise that there is risk involved in decision-making.

They are looking for a method of assessing and minimising this risk before spending taxpayer's money. In particular, they want to ensure that lessons learnt are acted upon; that regular reviews are carried out; and that when things do vary from plan the accountable officer implements corrective action.

Having come from the private sector, I did not have a sinister view of the NAO. I found its knowledge and experience helped projects to avoid problems others had experienced. Similarly, I believe the PAC does recognise if a department or individual has acted on recommendations, and notices when actions are taken to improve financial control and performance. In today's fast-moving world, not taking a risk is an even bigger and uncontrolled risk.

Peter Mathison Former CEO of the Benefits Agency Health warning

The article "Sensitive operators" (FM, February) astounded me. Being married to a paediatric intensive care nurse, I find it easier to understand the pressures of day-to-day management in such an environment.

There is no place for management accountants, however sensitive, to interfere in the running of an ICU. At the risk of denigrating my profession, their only role is to assist in acquiring extra capital funding and to detail ongoing expenditure, under the broader requirement of the medical directorate as a whole. It amazes me that the critical issue -- providing more beds -- has been overlooked. The waste and cost of extra accountants proves that the Finnish model is far superior and shows that the UK spends too much time duplicating costs.

It does not take an accountant to tell nursing managers and the...

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