"The Home Office yesterday became the first Whitehall department in living memory to present accounts to parliament that were delivered so late and so flawed that the National Audit Office is unable to tell MPs whether they are correct.
The department, which spends £13bn a year of taxpayers' money, will be hauled before parliament to explain "spectacular" errors and a failure by senior management under Sir John Gieve, the former permanent secretary and now deputy chairman of the Bank of England, to put together proper accounts. The report by Sir John Bourn, the comptroller and auditor general, reveals that two versions of the accounts from the Home Office were presented to the NAO which were so different that no single account balance was the same.
Adjustments amounting to £946m were made between the two accounts and the auditors do not know whether the second set - presented just before Christmas - are accurate.
The findings mean that auditors cannot say whether the Home Office has been defrauded although the department insisted yesterday that it believed the latest accounts were accurate.
The report says: "The accounts were riven with numerous inaccuracies." The figures were so disparate that one set says the Home Office overspent by £68m while the second set said the Treasury owed the Home Office £112m, a difference of £180m."
There was a time when a permanent secretary, through his or her role as an "accounting officer", could be held personally responsible - even liable - for the propriety of financial goings on in his or her department. Nowadays, they just seem to get promoted.