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I’m a CIPFA accountant but over the last few months I’ve been working with a different accounting institute, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) on the development of an online course. The course is their Certificate in International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS). The course opened today for registrations.

Those who don’t know much about the accounting profession might not be entirely surprised to learn that accountants have lots of rules and regulations to follow. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, depending on your point of view) the rules and regulations are not the same for every organisation in the world. There are some differences between countries in the accounting standards used by private sector companies although many countries have adopted the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).

IFRS nearly fit, but don’t quite fit, public sector bodies. Public bodies have some significant differences in their finances, such as having tax-raising powers, and investing in assets like roads and parks and schools and public hospitals that have no promise of earning them income in the future but will cost them money to operate and maintain. Hence, over the last 15 years or so, the accounting profession, in the guise of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board (IPSASB) has been developing and publishing IPSASs. There are now 32 of them (plus a special one for public bodies that use cash accounting rather than the more sophisticated accruals basis of accounting). The full set is available for free in PDF format from the IPSASB (use this link) but be warned, there are 2,000 pages over two volumes, and a total download of over 8MB.

There are some countries (including Austria, Cambodia, Kenya, Spain,South Africa, and Vietnam) and organisations (including the European Commission, NATO and the United Nations family of organisations) that have adopted IPSASs as they are. In some other countries, like the UK, public bodies follow the IFRS as far as they are able, and look to IPSAS for guidance on how to deal with transactions that IFRS doesn’t deal with. And there are other countries who have developed their own standards for their public bodies, often using the IFRS and IPSAS as a basis.

Anyway, my point is that IPSASs are important to public sector accountants, either because they are used directly, or because they underpin the accounting standards that they follow, and the course by the ACCA is intended to address the need for accountants around the world to know what IPSASs are, and at least understand the important principles. If you are interested in the course you can read more about its contents and find out how to register for it at the ACCA’s website.