MPs will probe the financial management at the Department for Education (DfE) after it used legislation to delay the publication of its accounts.
The DfE has used a statutory instrument, a minor piece of legislation which can be passed without debate among MPs, to extend the deadline for laying its financial accounts before Parliament to April 29.
Government departments are supposed to file their accounts by January 31, so the DfE’s move comes just two days before the deadline and on the last possible day for such a delay.
The move has led to criticism from education select committee chair Neil Carmichael, pictured, who said his committee would consider it as “further evidence” that a financial probe was needed.
He said: “Government departments have ten months to get their accounts in order and laid before Parliament for proper public scrutiny, and most manage with far less.
“Slipping out a statutory instrument to extend the deadline on the last possible day is further evidence of DfE’s struggle to get its act together on financial matters.”
He said his committee had agreed in December to invite DfE permanent secretary Chris Wormald to explain the department’s plans for academy accounts, and said today’s news left them with “no alternative but to consider the wider question of financial management at the DfE”.
It comes after the DfE came under pressure to get its accounts in order following criticism from the National Audit Office (NAO).
Officials have been trying to find a solution for recording academy finances since the NAO last year issued a rare “adverse opinion” on the DfE’s 2013/14 accounts.
The watchdog discovered an £166 million overspend and branded the department’s financial statements “both material and pervasive”, meaning that they did not meet the requirements of parliament.
The issues stemmed from the department having to combine the accounts of more than 2,500 organisations – most of them academy trusts with a different accounting period.
A spokesperson for the DfE said: “The consolidation of thousands of academies’ accounts is one of the largest procedures of its kind carried out in the UK. Throughout this process the NAO has found no material inaccuracies in the accounts.
“As part of the audit of the 2014-15 accounts, the NAO has requested some additional work. This will mean that the accounts will be laid later this year. We continue to work with the NAO the Treasury and Parliament to find a sustainable approach to reporting on the finances of academies.”