I sit here at my screen on the 18 October. Over the weekend George Osborne recommitted to take a strong stance on the national debt, with implementation of large scale public sector spending cuts in the spending review announcement this Wednesday 20 October. This is going to mean some big questions being asked of public sector finance directors.
In many cases those who are providing managerial leadership in organisations have progressed their careers in time of relative financial plenty. Now we’re entering a very different business environment for the public sector and the challenges will change. This is not to say that promoting public spending and increasing taxation are necessarily wrong, but the mood now has changed and the public sector FD is now in a new business environment.
The challenge now will not be how you can facilitate investment and growth, but how you can work with management teams to creatively support service delivery with a reducing resource base.
You won’t be in a position to provide easy options for management teams looking for safe havens and to to avoid issues of organisational downsizing that will inevitably follow from the Chancellor’s announcement. This will be an environment where the FD will be required to show above all strength and leadership to work with public sector organisations to achieve a positive outcome on the longer term development of public services following this period of restraint.
This will not necessarily be easy. I believe the skills and behaviours needed will prove different to what we’ve been used to. As FD, you will have a pivotal role in providing advice on how strategies can be funded for the future, and helping facilitate the tough decisions that organisations will be required to take. If ever a time rose its ugly head for use of those ’rounded skills’ – technically and managerially – it will be the next few years. If you have them, you may find yourself invaluable to the bit of the public sector behemoth you are supporting.
The views expressed here are made in a personal and professional capacity but are not necessarily the views of Hounslow Council.
Stephen fitzgerald is director of finance at Hounslow Borough Council. Follow his blog on the public sector, “In The National Interest”, by visiting Extraordinary Items hereafter every second week in the month