Improving the Transparency of Public Finances

Non-transparent public finances threaten the sustainability of public services. Professor David Heald’s research and engagement have improved fiscal transparency through reforms to public sector accounting and international harmonisation. His contributions have effected changes to policy and practice in the Scottish and Welsh Governments and Parliaments, the UK Parliament and Treasury, and internationally.

The research

Public sector accounting has acquired enhanced macroeconomic significance since the global financial crisis of the late 2000s.

Following successful implementation of accruals accounting (and sometimes budgeting) in countries such as the UK, attention has shifted to securing improved financial management of the public domain and to addressing weaknesses in public accountability through enhancement of fiscal transparency.

Professor Heald’s research is designed to ensure that extensive reforms to government accounting bring enhanced fiscal transparency and more accountable and trustworthy government in the UK and elsewhere.

Generating impact is intrinsic to Heald’s research and is enacted through a cycle whereby ‘real world’ policy and practice stimulate research, whose results, in turn, then influence policy and practice.

The impact

Professor Heald’s research has underpinned briefings on fiscal transparency to international policy actors, including the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department, the OECD and the World Bank Governance Division.

At UK level, Heald has translated his research into a range of briefings for UK policy actors, including Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, National Infrastructure Commission and the Study of Parliament Group.

At the level of devolved government within the UK, the Fiscal Framework agreement between the Scottish and UK Governments determines how Scotland is funded and underpins the powers set out in the Scotland Act 2016.

Professor Heald advised on the choice of the block grant adjustment mechanism within the 2016 Scottish Fiscal Framework after tax devolution was extended, and has contributed to preparations for the 2021 renegotiation, with the aim of enhancing the accountability of Scotland’s public finances.

The impact of Heald’s research on the ten-year journey to Welsh fiscal devolution has been acknowledged by Mark Drakeford MS, First Minister of Wales, and former Cabinet Secretary for Finance.

More recently, Professor Heald’s research has informed debates on contemporary issues such as Brexit and the fiscal response to COVID.