I am so sorry @timdavies and @davidkane et al as I am not a tech professional. I am, on the other hand an accountant/auditor and it was I that made this suggestion… Apologies also for length - mercifully, this is probably the only issue I will ever comment on.
In response to the point that there isnt an understanding about terminologies, I think that all depends on what concepts you are referring to. I agree notions of ‘core funding’ etc probably are ambiguous. However, there are some accounting terms which are clear.
First some key points/terminology before I answer @timdavies git hub test q.s. Sorry if this comes across as noddy, that is not the intention - I just want to make sure we are all talking about the same thing from a granular point of view before I start talking about the technicalities from my arena. Skip/skim, if necessary!
PART 1: TERMINOLOGIES
A) Financial Reporting (FR)
The act/effect of an entity preparing its accounts for public consumption/ presentation. [Think of this as the 3rd step in a chain of an entity’s financial activities: book-keeping (recording/maintaining transactional data and enterprise records associated with those transactions --> accounting (internal activities which transform transactions into aggregated formats e.g. monthly Management Accounts) --> FR (e.g. Annual Accounts, which often accompany the Annual Report).]
B) Financial Reporting Standards (FRS)
Used by all preparers of accounts (regardless of their legal form) to ensure that what is reported publically has certain characteristics. For instance, one aim of FR is to facilitate ‘comparability’ i.e. Charity A’s treatment of transaction type X and Charity B’s treatment of transaction type X out to be the same, which would allow an analyst to make appropriate comparisons between the two entites. (There are other characteristics, but I neednt go into them all.)
Different territories may maintain their own FRSs e.g. in the UK you may hear people referring to:
IFRS (International FRS): used by listed companies but also UK national and local Govt bodies.
FRS102: used by non-micro non-listed UK private sector entities, ALL charities and ALL Societies.
FRS105: for non-listed micro-enties.
C) SoRPs (Statements of Recommended Practice)
These are FRSs adjusted to suit specific sectors with complex laws/regulations (e.g. Charities, Pension funds, Social Housing providers, FE/HE institutions etc).
D) Charities SoRP
he SoRP that all charities need to comply with when they produce their Annual Accounts (NB: this is regardless of whether they are registered with the any of the UK’s region-specific Charity Commissions or not).
E) Fund accounting (Charities SoRP context)
The act of associating certain transactions with certain Funds so that the charity can demonstrate they have managed their financial affairs in accordance with their charitable ‘objects’. Think of funds as finite “pots” into which assets are stored/incomes received and out of which expenditures are funded.
For example, when ABC Foundation receives funding under certain conditions, is accounts for that funding in different ways: the decision tree from Figure 1 in the link originally sent shows the 5 different classifications of funding (http://www.charitysorp.org/media/620724/frs102_module-2.pdf). In lay terms, 360DG might just want to stick to the top tier:
“You can use it however you like” --> Unrestricted Fund
"You can only use this for certain purposes" -->Restricted Fund
NB: a funder wouldnt necessarily know whether the unrestricted funding awards were “Designated” or “General” (since that is determined by the recipient NOT the funder).
PART 2: ANSWERS TO GIT HUB QUESTIONS
(1)(a) Is this something that a large number of data providers already have in, or can infer from, their existing data in some form?
I would expect both grant funder and recipient to know and be 100% unambiguous about whether assets are to be associated with the Restricted Funds vs Restricted Funds, because the purpose of the grant (and the ways it can be used) would form part of the grant agreement.
(1)(b) How much would providers have to change to be able to provide this field?
I would like to think not much. Some funders only make ‘restricted’ grants, in which case classification wont be difficult for them…
(2)(a) Is there a clear use-case for the data?
Most definitely there is a use case. If you are given £100k for Activity Q (and nothing else) and you spend it on Activity R, you are in breach of Trust. In the olden days (!) there used to be a useful note which helped users ascertain if funds had been spent in breach. These days there is more aggregation so it might be easier to hide (e.g. when the “Cash line” in the Balance Sheet is not split out, you cant tell…). Nevertheless when Charities are forced to fund account properly, they are in a better position to know how close they are sailing to the wind.
(2)(b) What will become possible when there is standardised data for this field?
Researchers (such as myself) can then use the accounts to work out if breaches have occurred or if there is a risk that a charity might end up dipping into Restricted Funding unlawfully. This is not a hypothetical situation, I have recently experienced the following:
- formerly “Restricted” fund balances re-allocated to “Unrestricted” in the Annual Accounts;
- accountancy firm/independent reviewer told me “I havent actually read the grant agreements in detail…” and “This is standard practice”…
I have no idea whether this sort of thing is endemic or a one-off in my profession, but if the Charity’s funders supplied that info via 360DG, an “armchair auditor” such as myself would be in no doubt about whether breach/fraud/professional negligence had taken place.
(2)© How compelling is the impact?
Hopefully answered above. I.e. VERY.
(3) Is this field useful if only some users of the data standard provide it? Or does it need to be provided by almost everyone to become useful?
It would still be useful if only some funders used it, for three reasons:
- in the absence of proper fund accounting at the recipient level, and given that the restricted funding is more likely to have covenants (e.g. clawback clauses where breaches occur), it could provide a useful indication of whether a recipient’s accounts were somewhat ‘precarious’;
- it might tell us how many funders are not inclined to care about what happens with their money; and
- no funder will want to be in the “Err we dont know” category, so even where only a proportion publishes this data, it will act like a ‘moral magnet’ - they will all be doing it before long.
(4) Are there existing reporting requirements that relate to this field that providers have to work with?
Perhaps only to the extent that:
- a funder may itself be a charity (so e.g. it might only be able to provide restricted funds out of its own restricted fund!);
- (as per git hub item #197) there may be laws/regs which require a funder (e.g. local govt) to keep track of whether their funding is tied back to EU funds;
- a public body may be required to publish info about its financial activities and associated with those activities in order to ensure fairness/accountability etc.