Long before 'Impact' became fashionable in UK higher education, David Heald's research focused on practical problems of policy and implementation and much effort was expended on dissemination. The 2014 Research Excellence Framework gave a weight of 20% to Impact, increased to 25% for REF2021. His 2014 Impact Case Study on public sector accounting change played a significant role in the University of Aberdeen's Business & Management (Unit of Assessment 19) Impact submission coming second on Impact out of 101 submissions, only behind the University of Cambridge. Further recognition came in the November 2014 award of Fellowship of the Academy of Social Sciences (FAcSS) and in the May 2016 award of Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (FRSE). Illustrative examples of his research impact are provided below.
Transparency, both generic and fiscal, has become an integrating concept for much of David Heald's research. His 2006 co-edited book on transparency with Christopher Hood (Oxford) has been extensively reviewed
and has been cited in policy documents and in the research literature across several disciplines. This book and his own two chapters score highly on Google Scholar. His 2003 article on fiscal transparency has led to further academic work on the elusiveness of public expenditure transparency, and to directly policy-relevant publications on strengthening fiscal transparency (Handbook edited by IMF staff), and on surmounting obstacles to it (Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency).
In November 2006, David Heald responded to a request from the Fiscal Transparency Code Review Team of the International Monetary Fund to comment on proposed changes to the Code of Good Practices on Fiscal Transparency (approved by the IMF's Executive Board on 8 May 2007). After the shock of the 2008 global financial crisis, he was again consulted by the IMF Fiscal Affairs Department on what became the 2014 revision of the Code. More recently, he met a member of the IMF’s mission which prepared the 2016 Fiscal Transparency Evaluation of the United Kingdom.
David Heald's research on Public-Private Partnerships, both on accounting for them and on value-for-money, has attracted international attention from policymakers as well as from academia. Early work on PPPs (usually known in the United Kingdom as the Private Finance Initiative) and infrastructure accounting was extensively cited in the OECD's June 2000 Economic Survey of the United Kingdom. Similarly in the OECD's 2001 Managing Public Expenditure: A Reference Book for Transition Countries, published by the SIGMA Programme geared to the eastward extension of the European Union. His 2003 analysis
of PPP accounting and value-for-money has been cited in IMF policy documents on public investment and fiscal risk. His proposal that the public sector client should disclose the private sector partner's balance sheet treatment was adopted in the IMF's Economic
Issues 40 (2007, page 15). This has yet to happen, but the 2003 journal article is his most cited article on Google Scholar. He has contributed to meetings of the OECD's Senior Budget Officials Network of Senior Public-Private Partnership Officials. He has frequently given oral and written evidence on this topic to the Treasury Committee of the UK House of Commons, most recently on 5 March 2013. The video appears here. He appeared on BBC Television on 18 January 2018 on the day that the National Audit Office published a highly critical report on the Treasury’s revamped ‘PF2’. In 2019, he acted as reviewer for the National Infrastructure Commission’s research project on the VFM assessment work on historic conventionally-financed and Public-Private Partnerships in the roads sector, and on its analytical framework for future comparisons between publicly and privately funded infrastructure.
David Heald's role from 1989 to 2010 as specialist adviser on public expenditure and government accounting to the Treasury Committee of the UK House of Commons meant that he was heavily involved in Resource Accounting and Budgeting (the implementation of accruals accounting and budgeting in UK central government), a project which began in November 1993. He has strongly supported the idea of Whole of Government Accounts, some of his writing being included in the Treasury's (1998) Scoping Study. Before and after the 2009 publication of the first UK WGA, his papers on the desirable scope of accounting consolidation, the process of WGA preparation and opportunities for WGA use contributed to policy development and public understanding.
No longer constrained as a parliamentary adviser, David Heald has vigorously criticised the financial scrutiny arrangements of the House of Commons in evidence to select committees. He provided evidence in February 2014 on the implications of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. David Heald submittted written evidence to the Procedure Committee's
Inquiry into the scrutiny of Supply Estimates, the process through which the UK Government secures parliamentary approval for central government spending. In November 2018, he again proposed the creation of a Spending and Tax Committee, while indicating support for the Procedure Committee’s proposal of a Budget Committee.
Regulation of public sector accounting
From 1 August 2004 to 31 July 2009, David Heald was a member of the Financial Reporting Advisory Board, having been nominated as an independent economist by the Head of the Government Economic Service. Minutes of meetings since February 2005 are available here. In a personal capacity, he sometimes responds to consultations launched by accounting regulators. For example, he submitted comments to the International Accounting Standards Board's 2006
consultation on the IASB/FASB Conceptual Framework project. Also,
he submitted comments
to the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board's 2008 consultation on accounting for service concession agreements (ie PFIs or PPPs). As part of the internationalisation of his research, he has written on possible European Public Sector Accounting Standards (EPSAS) on the increasing use of government guarantees, and on the UK’s divorce bill from the European Union.
On 10 May 2016 he gave supporting
oral evidence, the video of which appears here. He submitted written evidence on 24 May 2016 on the uses of government accounts to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee's Inquiry into government accounts. The Committee’s report led to the establishment of the Government Financial Reporting Review and then to the January 2020 creation by HM Treasury of the stakeholder User-Preparer Advisory Group on government financial reporting, of which David Heald has been appointed a founder member.
The politics and economics of public spending
Ever since his 1983 book, Public Expenditure: Its Defence and Reform (Martin Robertson, Oxford), David Heald has combined interest in the philosophical and political bases of public expenditure provision and in technical matters of accounting, measurement and planning. Over time the technical came to dominate his published work. In order to redress the balance, he has published a book chapter on 'Rethinking public expenditure from a social democratic perspective' (in The Crisis of Social Democracy in Europe, edited by Michael Keating and David McCrone, Edinburgh University Press, 2013). He has co-edited a book on 'fiscal squeeze' with Christopher Hood (Oxford) and Rozana Himaz (Oxford Brookes), When the Party is Over: the Politics of Fiscal Squeeze in Perspective (Proceedings of the British Academy 197, Oxford University Press) which has three thematic chapters written by the editors and nine historical country case studies written by country experts. Reviews of this book appear
Governance of public bodies
David Heald's work on the governance of public bodies, together with Dr David Steel (Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Aberdeen Business School), was funded by a British Academy small grant. Five Knowledge Exchange and Transfer workshops, held in the summer of 2013, two in Edinburgh and three in London, attracted high-level participants and were funded by a KETF grant from the University of Aberdeen. A sixth event was held at Ulster Business School on 14 January 2014, arranged by the Chairs Forum and the Chief Executives Forum. An academic article on Chair-Chief Executive relationships was published in July 2015. Subsequently, an article on the Boards and Non-Executive Directors of public bodies was published in January 2018. David Heald made a presentation on strategy and governance on 11 December 2019 to the Board of Revenue Scotland, which is the Non-Ministerial Department responsible for Scotland’s devolved taxes.
David Heald's research on public audit and the governance of public bodies was prompted by his involvement in practice, particularly his role as specialist adviser to The Public Accounts Commission of the UK House of Commons (2004-09) and as a member of the Technical Advisory Group to the Audit Commission (2004-10). He resigned the former role so that he could publicly oppose the corporatisation of the National Audit Office, including by means of academic and practitioner articles. The sudden abolition of the Audit Commission by the incoming Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition (2010-15) led to him giving evidence against the proposed reforms to the Westminster Parliament's Communities and Local Government Committee and Draft Local Audit ad hoc Committee. He later gave evidence on parallel proposals for the Wales Audit Office. His research on public audit has been funded by the Leverhulme Trust and culminated in his 2018 article on the role of transparency and trust in public audit.
David Heald has long been involved in debates about devolution finance in the United Kingdom. A Fabian pamphlet in 1976 and his 1980 book set out what would later become the ‘tartan tax’ which formed part of the 1998 devolution scheme for Scotland. When that ‘Scottish Variable Rate’ power was never used, he submitted evidence to the Calman and Smith Commissions on Scottish devolution. In 1980 he named the ‘Barnett formula’ which governs most changes in the levels of the block grants to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. He demonstrated how it worked in a series of academic articles, most notably in Public Administration (1994) and Regional Studies (2005), and in 2002 proposed changes that, if made when proposed, would have greatly lessened later difficulties. On many occasions he has submitted written and presented oral evidence to Committees of the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly. His most recent contributions have been on the new Scottish Fiscal Framework established under the Scotland Act 2016, on the devolved financing arrangements and on the misalignment of UK and Scottish budgetary timetables. UK devolution finance is in flux, following the ‘No’ majority in the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, followed by the ‘Leave’ majority in the 2016 Brexit referendum which heralds the forthcoming exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union.
As part of David Heald's oral evidence (Q90) on 10 May 2016 to the Westminster Procedure Committee's Inquiry on Supply Estimates, he criticised the continuing inadequacy of published infomation on Barnett formula consequentials. In its report the Procedure Committee recommended greater transparency at the time of fiscal events. Subsequently, in 2017, the Treasury began the regualr publication of a new document 'Block Grant Transparency'. In June 2019, David Heald submitted written evidence to the Westminster Public Accounts Committee on the sustainability of the Barnett formula. This evidence is extensively quoted in its report. In 2020, his chapter on ‘The Politics of Scotland’s Public Finances’ was published in the Oxford Handbook of Scottish Politics. This chapter assesses the taxation powers held by the Scottish Parliament after the implementation of the Scotland Act 2016 powers, and criticises the taxation policies of the UK and Scottish Governments.