The world’s largest accountancy body, ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) has warned that urgent up-skilling in financial management across Whitehall was needed if the civil service was going to make long-term savings and improved service delivery.
ACCA says that while there is strong expertise in the finance function of the UK’s public sector, there is a need for Whitehall to invest in skills development in areas such as data analysis, procurement, project as well as financial management if savings in government are going to be made over the long term.
Gillian Fawcett, head of public sector at ACCA, said: “Spending cuts and the need to make savings in central government and other public sector bodies is set to increase in the coming years, so it is vital that there are improvements in public financial management for the taxpayer. There has been much trumpeting of the Treasury’s decision to appoint Whitehall’s first chief financial officer earlier this year, but a more root and branch reform of the public sector’s finance function is needed to garner genuine change. Like the private sector, public sector finance professionals need to see the bigger picture to be more effective, which is why skills linked to data analysis and procurement, as just two examples, are more relevant now than historically.
“There has been some recognition in Whitehall that there is a need to up-skill but there is a failure to acknowledge the biggest obstacle – building an effective finance profession in central government which is perceived positively and valued by their colleagues in an organisation which is largely made up of generalists. We believe that a culture change is necessary whereby economists and generalists value the potential contribution that financial management can make to government decision-making.”
ACCA points that a running theme that continues to crop up within the public sector is that the trend of the civil service finance professionals in government either leaving or changing roles could be hindering good governance and is in urgent need of attention.
Fawcett said: “The revolving door nature of the senior service is well-known, but it poses significant problems when it comes to delivery of good governance and corporate memory. It inhibits the ability to learn from mistakes and stifles the dissemination of best practice. This is also not helped by the skills gaps relating to procurement, project and financial management that still persist across Whitehall.”