According to this recent article on Accounting Madness in the Economist, Royal Mail has racked up a £10 Billion deficit in unfunded pension liabilities alone. Wow! The USPS, which is about $15 Billion in debt, only racked up 5 Billion in underfunded pension liabilities. And we thought they were doing well, as they saved over 300 Million pounds in the first phase of their Procurement Transformation and expect to save over 600 Million pounds in the second phase. Too bad they don’t understand that contingent liabilities are still liabilities and that, if ignored, will just come back to bite you in the thigh, repeatedly, like your friendly neighbourhood boghog.
Who came up with the National Accounts rules anyway? The pension liabilities of unfunded pension plans are contingent liabilities and are therefore not recorded as liabilities in the National Accounts or public sector finances. How can you count the assets, and say you have a £16.5 Billion Surplus, but not count the liabilities, especially when the reality is that you are in a deficit of £10 Billion? It’s just insane.
How much credibility would your Supply Management organization have if you only counted savings and not cost increases? Specifically, if you counted the $10 Million you saved on temporary labour on the balance sheet when reporting your successes to management but ignored the extra $20 Million you spent on oil because you didn’t lock prices in for the long term? Not much. Nor would it be wise to do so. Ignoring losses takes the focus away from where the organization, and cost management, should be focussed. It’s time for good GAAP to be accepted around the world, and, in particular, a GAAP standard that doesn’t allow such big gaps to go unnoticed for so long!