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Public sector accounting, accountability and austerity: more than balancing the books?

Enrico Bracci (University of Ferrara, Ferrara, Italy,)
Christopher Humphrey (Manchester Business School, Manchester, UK)
Jodie Moll (Manchester Business School, Manchester, UK)
Ileana Steccolini (Bocconi University, Milan, Italy)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 17 August 2015

Abstract

Purpose

The era of austerity that has followed the outbreak of the global financial crisis has posed a myriad of challenges for public services, with demands for major cuts in government spending, the delivery of balanced budgets and zstrategies for deficit reduction. The purpose of this paper is to consider how public sector accounting and accountability systems are implicated in the development and implementation of austerity policies. Also, it pinpoints a range of issues that accounting researchers need to be contemplating on the subject of accounting for austerity.

Design/methodology/approach

Interdisciplinary literature review, coupled with an illustrative discussion of the changing nature of public sector accounting practices under austerity.

Findings

Despite the significance and scale of austerity, public sector accounting research on the topic is in its infancy, with the prominent focus being on how accounting technologies are used to manage austerity. There have been few attempts to debate critically the construction of austerity and to provide alternative accounts of austerity. Accounting for austerity, especially in terms of its implications and consequences, is far too complex and challenging to be categorized as simply seeking to “balance the books”.

Research limitations/implications

As an academic community, we need to be developing understanding of public sector accounting research under austerity across different organizational levels and contexts. Also, we should be framing the accounts of austerity in ways that respect and build on a sound understanding of the extensive available interdisciplinary research on this topic. Key research questions to address include: how is accounting shaping constructions of, and impressions, attitudes and behaviors toward, austerity and the status of governments and public service organizations? What do such patterns of development mean for the roles and contributions of public sector accountants under austerity? Are accounting systems destined to be used primarily as vehicles for cost-cutting, or can they be used as engines for growth and for thinking about public service responsibilities in more socially inclusive forms?

Originality/value

Accountings of austerity in the field of public sector accounting research have been worryingly limited. This paper and the papers in this special issue of AAAJ address such failings, revealing a range of critical implications and challenges of austerity policies for public sector accounting research.

Keywords

Citation

Bracci, E., Humphrey, C., Moll, J. and Steccolini, I. (2015), "Public sector accounting, accountability and austerity: more than balancing the books?", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 28 No. 6, pp. 878-908. https://doi.org/10.1108/AAAJ-06-2015-2090

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited