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.