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Audit, Accountability, and the Impact of the Two World Wars

'The sinews of war are unlimited money.'

Cicero, Fifth Phillipic, ch. 5

Wars have always provided challenges to parliamentary financial control, accountability, and audit. Heavy military expenditures present stronger demands and continuing pressures. Normal standards, procedures, and financial controls are inevitably reduced or suspended to reflect challenging wartime circumstances, unforeseen emergencies, and military priorities. These cast a shadow before them and leave a difficult post-war legacy. Wartime operations can also stimulate fresh thinking and indicate new methods of working aimed at greater economy and efficiency, in audit as well as in departments.

The impact of the First and Second World Wars on accountability was at three levels: parliamentary funding; controls over the conduct of departmental business; and the scope and depth of audit. During the First World War the estimates and supplementary estimates presented gave only limited information for MPs to consider proposed expenditure. This was partly for security reasons and also because of difficulties in forecasting levels of expenditure at such uncertain times and apportioning them over different votes. There were many token estimates, and timetables for approving estimates were shortened. There were also reductions in the disclosure of expenditure in some appropriation accounts where, again on security grounds, figures for separate votes were grouped together and presented in abstract terms only. More generally, at least in the early years, the climate of opinion in the House of Commons, anxious to show support for the war, was not conducive to close questioning of the government's financial proposals.

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