What is the accountancy profession’s role in this continued era of austerity? Is the profession a passive implementer of austerity policies or a challenging force illuminating and helping to eliminate the adverse social consequences of austerity?
These are some of the central questions being posed by Jodie Moll and Chris Humphrey who are co-editors of a special issue of the Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal being published later this year.
Jodie, senior lecturer in accounting, says despite the significance and scale of austerity, public sector accounting research on the topic is in its infancy, with the main 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,” she says.
The era of austerity that has followed the outbreak of the global financial crisis has posed a myriad of challenges for public services across Europe, with demands for major cuts in government spending, the delivery of balanced budgets and strategies for deficit reduction.
Adds Jodie: “The public sector has borne the brunt of the cuts and we want to investigate how accounting is implicated in this and whether it has been used too crudely. Are we thinking through the full range of options, and are there smarter ways of working? Accounting is very much at the coalface of how these decisions are being made on a day to day basis. Close to home, you only have to look at the cuts that Manchester City Council has had to make to see the everyday implications.”
Jodie says one of the key questions is whether accounting systems are used primarily as vehicles for cost-cutting, or whether can they be used as engines for growth and for thinking about public service responsibilities in more socially-inclusive forms.
“The paper considers 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.”