This is my last column for a few months as I am about to take a career detour to have an NZ11B (readers who don’t know their tariff codes by heart can look it up).
Just time then, for this year’s Finance Departments Delivering Liberty and Excellence (FiDDLE) award.
‘The Treasury has been kicking around some imaginative new definitions of “health spending”’
To ensure maximum flexibility, we have engaged the civil servant’s definition of a “year”: that is, one that ensures we can rig the results according to our predetermined policy needs.
Thus our panel of expert judges met to select the winner two days before the unveiling of the comprehensive spending review, allowing us to rule out a late entry from the Treasury, which has been kicking around some imaginative new definitions of “health spending”.
Our last winners were all those foundation trusts cleverly FiDDLing the government banking service by drawing down commercial overdrafts in order to momentarily boost their government banking service balances on the March 31 date needed secure a discount on their capital charge.
And the winner is…
The Department of Health promptly caught up with the ruse. But FTs came back stronger than ever with a fresh FiDDLE on the capital charge problem: the well timed asset revaluation.
Indeed, we had a number of strong entries from FTs this year, all illustrating the FT finance director’s rightful status at the vanguard of NHS accountancy − where one thinks not of FiDDLing this year’s balance sheet, but that of the next; ever ready to shift with the moving goal posts of Monitor’s new risk assessment framework.
Alas entries from commissioners have not been so impressive. Their noble − but ultimately novice − attempts to hide spare cash in FT prepayments or balance sheet provisions were quickly scuppered. Such lacklustre performance is, of course, the devastating cost of top-down reorganisation.
‘For good measure, a large chunk of commissioning was moved to the centre, ensuring that topslicing could live on’
This year’s award, then, goes to a joint entry from the DH and NHS England for their sterling work in the field of NHS allocations. Faced with the need to squeeze a quart out of a pint pot these entrants first concocted baseline spending data so meaningless the opposition literally had no basis upon which to complain.
Next, years of research to hone a new allocation formula were promptly ignored when it turned out the numbers didn’t sound right.
Then lastly, for good measure, a large chunk of commissioning was moved to the centre, ensuring that topslicing could live on, in the form of the generously estimated central budget for specialised commissioning.
That leaves a nice little mess for commissioners and providers alike, which we look forward to seeing addressed in next year’s entries.
Sally Gainsbury is a reporter for the Financial Times, email@example.com