Report highlights: State Finances 2021
What the report is about
The results of the consolidated General Government Sector (GGS) and Total State Sector (TSS) financial statements audits for the year ended 30 June 2021.
What we found
The Independent Auditor’s Report on the 2020–21 GGS and TSS financial statements was unqualified but contained an emphasis of matter. The resolution of significant issues delayed signing until 24 December 2021.
The emphasis of matter draws attention to significant uncertainties associated with key assumptions related to the recognition by the GGS of a $2.4 billion investment in the Transport Asset Holding Entity (TAHE).
The Audit Office advised NSW Treasury that it intended to issue a qualified audit opinion, but actions by the NSW Government avoided this outcome. All evidence provided prior to 14 December indicated that the GGS’s return on the $2.4 billion cash contributed to TAHE was insufficient to support accounting for it as an investment. Projected returns were below the long term inflation rate and were insufficient to recover:
- TAHE's revaluation loss of $20.3 billion in 2020–21
- an average rate of return of at least 2.5 per cent of equity invested in TAHE.
In these circumstances, the $2.4 billion contributed to TAHE should have been expensed. This could have impacted the GGS’s budget result.
The NSW Government’s actions to avoid a qualified audit opinion included:
- a government decision made on 14 December approving TAHE’s shareholding ministers communicating that their expectation of a return had increased to 2.5 per cent
- reflecting the revised shareholding minsters’ expectations in the 2021–22 ‘NSW Half yearly Review’ on 16 December. The NSW Government provided an additional $1.1 billion to fund increased access and license fees to TAHE from the public sector operators (Sydney Trains and NSW Trains)
- signing a Heads of Agreement (HoA) on18 December between Transport for NSW (TfNSW),TAHE and the public sector operators. The HoA reflected the parties’ intent to renegotiate contracts to increase TAHE’s licence and access fees by $5.2 billion.
The uncertainty raised in our emphasis of matter relates to:
- TAHE’s future estimated access and licence fees, which remain subject to re-negotiation and must meet or exceed the indicative future access and licence fees set out in the HoA
- continued funding for TAHE's key customers (Sydney Trains and NSW Trains) to meet the price increases outlined in the HoA
- the 2021–22 'NSW Budget Half Yearly Review', which provides for $1.1 billion of the additional funding over the forward estimates period to 2024–25. A further $4.1 billion is required over the following six years (2026–31), which are outside the forward estimates period
- further significant cash flows required to support the funding model are outside the ten-year contract period. That is, beyond 30 June 2031.
There remains a risk that:
- TAHE will not be able to re-contract with the rail operators for access and licence fees at a level that is consistent with current projections
- future government's funding to TAHE’s key customers, the rail operators, may not be consistent with the current shareholding ministers’ expectations
- TAHE will be unable to grow its non-government revenues.
The audit found a risk of undue reliance on consultants, a need to improve quality controls on materials submitted to audit and an extreme risk finding raised with respect to providing key information on a timely basis.
The GGS Budget Result for the 2020–21 financial year was a deficit of $7.1 billion compared to an original forecast budget deficit of $16 billion.
The State did not achieve its fiscal target of maintaining annual expenditure growth below the long-term revenue growth target of 5.6 per cent. In 2020–21, the GGS expenditure grew by 6.9 per cent mainly due to grants and subsidies paid from the COVID-19 stimulus packages received from the Commonwealth.
What we recommended
Significant matters concerning TAHE
We recommend NSW Treasury:
- implement effective quality review processes over key accounting information
- establish a policy to determine the minimum expected rate of return on its equity injections into public sector entities
- report on the performance of investments in TAHE and all other public sector entities
- ensure the revised commercial agreements between TAHE and NSW rail operators reflect access and licence fees set out in the Heads of Agreement
- with TAHE, prepare robust projections and business plans to support returns beyond FY2031
- liaise with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and reconfirm the sector classifications of TAHE, NSW Trains and Sydney Trains
- with TAHE, monitor the risk that control of TAHE assets could change in future reporting periods
- significantly improve its processes to ensure all key information is identified and shared on a timely basis
- consider whether there is sufficient competent oversight of its use of consultants and assess the risk of an overdependence on consultants at the cost of internal capability.
A number of other non-TAHE related recommendations have been raised in Section 6 ‘Key Audit Findings’.
The Total State Sector comprises the General Government Sector, the Public Non-Financial Corporation (PNFC) Sector and the Public Financial Corporation (PFC) Sector.
The 2020–21 consolidated financial statements of the General Government and Total State Sectors provide the financial performance and position of the NSW Government.
Please contact Ian Goodwin, Deputy Auditor-General on 9275 7347 or by email.