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Professionalising British central government bureaucracy c. 1850: The accounting dimension

John Richard Edwards

Journal of Accounting and Public Policy, 2011, vol. 30, issue 3, 217-235

Abstract: The Northcote-Trevelyan Report (1854) recommended fundamental changes to public policy which included the replacement of patronage by examination as the basis for recruitment to the British Civil Service and of seniority by merit as the foundation for promotion decisions. This paper examines the accounting dimension of reforms designed to achieve enhanced administrative efficiency and greater economy in the operation of government departments. A growing interest in the role of accounting within British government during the second quarter of the nineteenth century is elucidated, and prevailing ideas concerning how accounting within government departments and accountability from the executive to parliament might be performed more efficiently and effectively are uncovered. The battle between divergent pressure groups concerning who should possess jurisdiction over accounting work is explored, and the solution to this problematic is found to connect with the nature of a central government accounting system that was itself undergoing significant change. Consistency between the Northcote-Trevelyan recommendations and ongoing internal initiatives designed to ensure the competence of clerks recruited to undertake accounting work and subsequently applying for promotion to a higher grade is demonstrated.

Date: 2011
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