Richard Harbord profile

Posted on January 19, 2014 · Posted in Accounting & Business

The view from Richard Harbord FCCA, independent public sector financial consultant and chair of ACCA’s Public Sector Network Panel.  I’m an odd job man.”

I have run my own consulting business since 2001, when I gave up my last substantive role as managing director of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. At present I am part time chief executive of Boston Borough Council, help out at Brent and Barnet councils and have a contract with Belfast City Council.  Brent lost its chief executive and its director of finance, so I have been helping them to put together their budget.

I am chair of ACCA’s Public Sector Network Panel, which meets quarterly.  We set up events with guest speakers, submit responses to consultation documents and commission articles for ACCA magazines.

Boston is a small district council and I run the officer side. Three years ago, it ran into difficulty.  We have been turning it round to make it a modern, efficient local authority.  I am the principal advisor to elected members.

The current lack of finance is a challenge.  In larger authorities there is more flexibility in the budget.  With a small authority there is very limited room for manoeuvre.  So a £1m loss of grant affects services.  We have been negotiating with staff over terms and conditions, which has been a considerable challenge.

The London Borough of Richmond was a very old fashioned authority and while I was there we moved light years forward and made it a really happy place to work.  That was a great achievement.  And at Boston we have made a great advance, because it is now a very effective authority.

I absolutely do not have a typical day, or a typical week – which drives my wife mad.  People want me for particular days and particular events.

I never really had any idea how my career was going to turn out.  I never had any ambition to become a chief executive and I only applied to become chief executive at Richmond upon Thames because I was worried another accountant might apply and I didn’t want to work for him.  Then I got the job.

I wasn’t a model pupil at school.  I had told a careers advisor I wanted to be a pig farmer and he said why don’t you train to be an accountant?  There was a letter on the school notice board saying the council were looking for an accountancy trainee.  So I applied for the trainee post and got the job.

The ACCA qualification has opened a whole new set of opportunities, for example through being involved in public sector consultations and gaining a lot of contacts in central government, which has been very interesting and has enabled me to take up opportunities that have been presented.

I am not very good at work life balance. I try to have a day and a half at home each week, as well as the weekend. At times in my career I have been a bit of a workaholic.