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Article
Publication date: 10 June 2014

Giuseppe Grossi and Ileana Steccolini

– The purpose of this viewpoint paper is to introduce the special issue and outline its major themes.

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this viewpoint paper is to introduce the special issue and outline its major themes.

Design/methodology/approach

The public governance literature is described, and the necessity for analysing challenges for accountability and accounting in the public sector is elaborated upon, as a precursor to introducing the contributions to this special issue.

Findings

The public governance turn in public management and policy studies has often meant that accounting and accountability issues have been overlooked. This special issue reminds us that they are central in public governance and networks, and that accounting cannot be dismissed as only a “technical” issue since it is central in power relationships, building trust, ensuring transparency and improving decision making for both internal and external stakeholders.

Research limitations/implications

This special issue of Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management aims to stimulate qualitative research on how accounting and accountability are being shaped by the new public governance paradigm and, in turn, contribute to shaping it.

Practical implications

The articles included in this special issue focus on reforms and innovations that have been adopted based on the assumption that improving mechanisms of public governance and accountability will result in better public sector performance. The different aspects of governance and accounting changes will also be of interest to politicians, managers, citizens, and those who seek accountability from public sector organisations.

Originality/value

The paper offers a systematic empirical examination of the innovative experiences of different governments to strengthen transparency, openness and participation, and to enhance the capacity to manage, steer and monitor contracts, partnerships and relationships with private and public sector entities.

Details

Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, vol. 11 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1176-6093

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 17 August 2015

Enrico Bracci, Christopher Humphrey, Jodie Moll and Ileana Steccolini

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…

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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.

Details

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. 28 no. 6
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 17 August 2015

Thomas Ahrens and Laurence Ferry

The purpose of this paper is to shed light on new accountability relationships between Newcastle City Council (NCC) and its citizens and stakeholders in the wake of the British…

3831

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to shed light on new accountability relationships between Newcastle City Council (NCC) and its citizens and stakeholders in the wake of the British government’s austerity politics and its budget cuts for local authorities. It seeks to show some of the ways in which various kinds of budgeting, for example, for alternative sources of funding, the use of volunteers for service provision, resource sharing, and asset transfers, as well as a diverse set of accounts of the social implications of resource diversions and service cuts, have been implicated in those changes.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors conducted a qualitative field study of some of the uses of budgets in the shaping of accountability relationships through interviews with council officers, conversations with activists and citizens, analysis of council and other documents, and observation of public meetings and demonstrations. The approach focused on the relationship between the city’s political grassroots and the NCC leadership and administration.

Findings

The authors find that NCC’s senior politicians and officers co-opted the city’s political grassroots and managed to reconstitute local political accountability to citizenry and stakeholders as a choice between the cessation of different types of local government services, by combining appeals to the legal framework of English local authorities, the unfairness of national politics, and the fairness of local government service provision. Local government blamed the funding cuts and the resulting resource shortages on the central government. It sought to push responsibility for cuts to the local citizenry whilst reserving for itself the role of mediator and adjudicator who makes the final decisions about the portfolio of causes that will be funded.

Originality/value

This is the first study to offer detailed insight into the effects of the British government’s austerity budget cuts of local authority grants on the politics of accountability in a local authority.

Details

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. 28 no. 6
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 10 June 2014

Jean Claude Mutiganda

This study aims to analyse the role of circuits of power in institutionalising competitive tendering in public sector organisations and effects on accountability among public…

Abstract

Purpose

This study aims to analyse the role of circuits of power in institutionalising competitive tendering in public sector organisations and effects on accountability among public decision makers.

Design/methodology/approach

The study used intensive field research data based on interviews, meeting observations and document analysis in a city, referred to as Sunset City, in Finland from 2008 to 2013.

Findings

The relationship between institutionalisation of competitive tendering and accountability for total costs of public services depends on how public officials use management accounting and control systems to limit procurement risks and how political decision makers hold public officials to account. This study uses the concept of organisational outflanking within the circuits of power to analyse and explain the finding of ceremonial accountability.

Research limitations/implications

Empirical findings cannot be generalised to other situations, but the theoretical framework used in this study can be applied elsewhere.

Practical implications

It is advisable to avoid institutionalising macro-institutional market-based mechanisms, such as open competitive tendering in public health care organisations and municipalities in the EU, the consequences of which in terms of total costs, quality of services and accountability among organisational actors at local levels cannot be foreseen, minimised or controlled.

Originality/value

This study uses the framework of circuits of power to extend the Burns and Scapens institutional framework to accountability for using public funds in outsourcing services during the ongoing financial crisis.

Details

Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, vol. 11 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1176-6093

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 17 August 2015

Berend van der Kolk, Henk J. ter Bogt and Paula M.G. van Veen-Dirks

The purpose of this paper is to examine how management control (MC) within governmental departments is used in times of austerity, and how insights from agency and stewardship…

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine how management control (MC) within governmental departments is used in times of austerity, and how insights from agency and stewardship theory can enhance the understanding of this issue.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors distinguish two types of MC (constraining and facilitating) based on their different assumptions regarding human behavior (agent-like and steward-like). The authors empirically analyze changes in the use of these types of MC in four cases located in two municipalities. The collected data consists of 51 semi-structured interviews, desk research and multiple field observations.

Findings

The authors find that MC at the departmental level becomes more constraining in times of austerity. The authors suggest that an overemphasis on constraining MC has negative consequences. It can, for instance, evoke agent-like, opportunistic behavior while it disregards potential steward-like behavior. These negative consequences are less prevalent when there is a simultaneous increase in emphasis on the use of facilitating MC elements.

Originality/value

The authors acknowledge “human ambivalence,” i.e. an employee’s recurring choice between agent-like and steward-like behavior, and illustrate the dangers of overly relying on constraining types of MC. The authors also contemplate alternative strategic managerial responses to austerity in a public sector context.

Details

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. 28 no. 6
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 17 August 2015

David Heald and Ron Hodges

The purpose of this paper is to analyse how austerity has impacted to date upon European Union (EU) financial reporting developments and how this might influence future reforms…

1995

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to analyse how austerity has impacted to date upon European Union (EU) financial reporting developments and how this might influence future reforms. It considers how a critical juncture in EU financial reporting might be recognized and factors which might prevent or delay such a juncture being realized.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper uses the theoretical conceptualization of the territorializing, mediating, adjudicating and subjectivizing roles of accounting (Miller and Power, 2013), linked to document analysis and interviews with members of the relevant policy communities. In technical terms, austerity makes accounting subject to greater demands for consistency and uniformity. In political terms, accounting is implicated in increasing external fiscal surveillance of sovereign states.

Findings

The authors have shown how the Miller-Power framework illuminates these developments. The territorializing role of accounting in sovereign states creates an environment which facilitates the mediating, adjudicating and subjectivizing roles. Austerity promotes re-territorializing, yet also creates incentives for governments to hide risks and guarantees: the comparability of financial reports and national accounts may be achieved only at a rhetorical level. Evidence for a critical juncture would be termination of national traditions of financial reporting, greater harmonization of accounting across tiers of government, weakening of the linkages to private sector accounting, and stronger alignment of government financial reporting with statistical accounting.

Originality/value

The paper provides a theoretically based analysis of how austerity influences government financial reporting and statistical accounting and brings them into closer contact. This analysis is located within broader tensions between technocracy and democracy that are institutionalized in EU fiscal surveillance.

Details

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. 28 no. 6
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 17 August 2015

Sandra Cohen, María-Dolores Guillamón, Irvine Lapsley and Geraldine Robbins

The purpose of this paper is to examine the impact of the Eurozone financial crisis by discussing the experiences of Greece, Ireland and Spain. It particularly examines the…

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine the impact of the Eurozone financial crisis by discussing the experiences of Greece, Ireland and Spain. It particularly examines the influence and actions of the Troika in the management of the sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone.

Design/methodology/approach

The primary source of information for this study has been the documents of the Greek, Irish and Spanish Governments (often only available in their native language) and the reports of EU bodies and the IMF, supplemented by media coverage, as deemed appropriate. This has been analysed on a comparative basis to contrast the experiences of these three countries.

Findings

This study reveals how the Eurozone crisis has impacted on financially weak countries in this currency union. The fiscal conservatism of the Troika (the IMF, the EU and the European Central Bank) has had profound consequences for these economies, which have experienced dramatic cuts in public services.

Research limitations/implications

This study has focused on the experiences of three countries in the Eurozone. There is a case for extending this analysis to other Eurozone countries.

Practical implications

There are two approaches to recession – governments can stimulate demand by infrastructure spending or take the financial conservatism route of reducing public expenditure and public sector borrowing. However, the severity of the crisis undermines the first approach and there are uncertain outcomes with the second approach. This paper shows the effects of adopting financial conservatism as a strategy in this crisis.

Social implications

The austerity programmes pursued by the governments in this study have led to unemployment, migration of skilled workers, collapse in property markets, failing banks and social unrest.

Originality/value

This study takes an accounting perspective on the Eurozone crisis. This offers a distinctive interpretation of events. This study examines the merits of widely used theories in studies of public sector change namely legitimation and resource dependency theory intertwined with power and offers insights into how meaningful they are in explaining the dramatic influence of austerity programmes in the Eurozone.

Details

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. 28 no. 6
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 10 June 2014

Lisa Hansson and Frode Longva

The purpose of this paper is to illustrate how accountability is expressed in contractual arrangements found in network governance structures that provide public transport…

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to illustrate how accountability is expressed in contractual arrangements found in network governance structures that provide public transport services and to raise discussion of how to understand contracting accountability in network governance contexts.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper is rooted in two research traditions: contracting studies and studies of accountability in government/governance contexts. Content analysis is used in examining contracts from two cases. These contracts are of five types: contracts between public organizations, contracts within a public organization, contracts between public organizations and private firms, and contracts between political parties within a municipality and contracts within a network. Various contracting approaches are identified within these types.

Findings

The paper concludes that the contracts' functions differ between the cases. The first case did not have an overall contract that defined the network, relying on different two-party contracts instead. In the other case, an incentive-based contract was used to link the organizations. From an accountability perspective, the latter contracting structure clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the actors and increases the possibility of accountability to citizens.

Originality/value

The paper brings new insights to the field of contracting and accountability by focusing on the role of contracts in network governance structures, taking account of various accountability relationships. It also contributes new theoretical categories usable when analysing contracting accountability in a network context.

Details

Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, vol. 11 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1176-6093

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 10 June 2014

Cristina Campanale, Lino Cinquini and Andrea Tenucci

The purpose of this paper is to discuss the potentialities of innovative accounting tools in supporting “transparency” and “resource allocation” in public hospitals, by describing…

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to discuss the potentialities of innovative accounting tools in supporting “transparency” and “resource allocation” in public hospitals, by describing the implementation of a pilot project of time-driven activity-based costing (TDABC).

Design/methodology/approach

An interventionist research (IR) approach has been adopted: two medical doctors, three financial controllers and three researchers were involved. Collection of data used to implement the accounting model is based on hospital databases and interviews.

Findings

The information produced may allow a higher coherence between resources and activities. TDABC may enhance transparency and support decisions toward a better organization of work and an informed allocation of resources.

Research limitations/implications

Further studies are required to analyze decisions following the implementation of the TDABC model.

Originality/value

The accounting literature lacks case studies describing the application of TDABC in hospital settings, despite its good informative potentialities and the limited investment required to introduce TDABC. Moreover, the use of the IR approach and the involvement of medical doctors may help to get coherence between accounting data and clinical work and may support the further diffusion and development of this costing model in hospitals.

Details

Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, vol. 11 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1176-6093

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 10 June 2014

Enrico Bracci

The aim of the paper is to illustrate the changing structure of accountability under a new public governance agenda introduced in England to deliver social care through personal…

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Abstract

Purpose

The aim of the paper is to illustrate the changing structure of accountability under a new public governance agenda introduced in England to deliver social care through personal budgets.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper draws on accountability and public governance literature, in particular, the accountability framework proposed by Hupe and Hill. The evidence was gathered from exploratory case studies conducted in two English County Councils.

Findings

The introduction of personal budgets has modified the roles of the different actors involved in the co-production of social services. The case studies evidence changes in the accountability and governance process, particularly with respect to the personal budget regime that has devolved responsibility and accountability to the customer. Specifically, the customer's role has shifted and expanded in the accountability chain and thus developed into a partnership.

Originality/value

This study is one of the first to analyse the relationship between the personalisation agenda in English social services and the relevant accountability mechanisms involved. Moreover, the paper refines the theoretical framework proposed by Hupe and Hill according to the different role the public now plays.

Details

Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, vol. 11 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1176-6093

Keywords

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