The view from… public sector consultancy
Stephen Fitzgerald FCCA is a consultant and interim manager working in the public sector and is chair of ACCA’s public sector panel.
I provide consulting and interim management support to public sector clients. There is rarely an average day. A single tier local authority is responsible for over 1,000 services from collecting refuse to child protection. A senior finance manager each day deals with a diversity of issues that are crucial to the community. You have to be versatile.
Local government senior managers’ hours are long, with political level meetings often held in evenings. You must demonstrate personal resilience to keep up the pace and ensure your contribution is always of the highest quality.
I must ensure political leadership has the best possible information and advice to make financial and management decisions. Relationships with leading politicians and management boards are critical.
I am committed to the long term development of finance teams to ensure the best service to the customer and positive outcomes for staff. I describe this as ‘Building Finance for the Future’. Leading and developing staff to achieve maximum performance is an exciting challenge.
Setting local authorities’ revenue budgets and annual council tax is a real challenge. Funding from central government has fallen in cash terms by over 20% in four years. Most local authorities are experiencing significant financial strain. However, local government performance ratings have improved. I help organisations deal with difficult prioritisation issues and ensure they maximise value for money.
Political decision-making is fascinating. I enjoy working with politicians to help them achieve their aspirations for their communities. I also like working with teams and seeing staff develop and work together to achieve challenging business objectives.
I would like to see a greater focus on best practice in recruitment to achieve value for money and equality of opportunity. I am astounded by some recruitment decisions. Effective staff recruitment and selection are at the core of any successful business. Too often recruitment is bumbling, inconsistent and biased.
My advice to others is never have a poverty of ambition.. Focus on what you can do and not on what you can’t do – and on the future, not the past. Achieving seniority is not just based on intelligence and hard work, but how you deal with setbacks.
I am particularly proud of having led the finance function of a large local authority over a six year period. In that time the authority was fundamentally remodelled and identified as excellent by the Audit Commission. Local tax did not rise for six years after 35 years of consistent increases, over £60m was taken out of the revenue budget and the level of revenue balances doubled. The finance team