Heritage assets differ from other assets because of their historical and cultural importance (i. e. historical buildings, archaeological sites, conservation areas, natural reserves). As a consequence, they can’t be reproduced, substituted and exchanged. These characteristics make it difficult to identify appropriate accounting rules. This paper, through a theoretical-deductive methodology, aims: to describe the accounting rules for heritage assets prescribed or suggested by law and major standard setters in the international field, in order to identify the conceptual models they refer to, if there are any; to match these models with the basic concepts of accounting (especially accrual accounting for the public sector) and to criticize some logical incoherence and informational lack both in the accounting standards and in the current practice; to propose a solution for the informational gap by increasing the disclosure in financial reporting. The findings show that standard setters’ approach is not always consistent with the informational goals. They often apply to heritage assets the same concepts and methods suggested for tangible assets in private sector, without considering neither their specific immaterial (cultural, artistic and social) content nor the typical information needs which a public sector entity generates. Indeed, the conventional book values (fair value, historical cost or reproduction cost) seem to be unable to encompass the characteristics of uniqueness and non-reproducibility of heritage asset, while better results could be obtained by a broader use of narrative disclosure and other measurement methodologies, such as the contingent valuation method, the travel cost method and the cost – benefits analysis. Nevertheless, social reporting tools seem to offer a more attractive field of investigation because they can fill the informational gap, providing some immaterial benefit measures arising from heritage assets. This paper is a contribution to the existing literature by pointing out some inherent limitations that make the traditional accounting categories unsuitable to include relevant informational characteristics of heritage assets; furthermore, it suggests new tools to improve the financial reporting of public sector entities that manage heritage assets. Possible future development of the research might be to apply quantitative methodology for a deeper analysis of the link between specific informational needs and specific reporting options.
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