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We are a cross-party, member-led network, providing a single voice for our member councils

Finance – The Hot Potato for Local Government

Category: Blogs | Sponsors
Published: 26 March 2024

What does this mean for Finance Talent?

For more than a decade the environment for councils has been testing. The dramatic spike in inflation over the past 18 months has significantly amplified challenges such as the housing crisis and the increasing cost of homelessness. Now against a backdrop of continuously increasing demand for council services and reduced funding, we’re seeing a range of upper tier and otherwise soundly-managed district councils at risk of bankruptcy because of this double-digit increase in costs.

As these financial challenges become more pressing, the demand for experienced finance professionals is increasingly outstripping supply – for anyone who has recently advertised a s151 officer vacancy it will be no surprise to learn that there aren’t quite enough good people to go around. CIPFA Penna have unrivalled access to and experience of the finance market.

As a supporter of the DCN, we wanted to share our expertise in securing finance talent and look at what districts could do to be competitive when it came to s151 and finance talent in general; and look at how they could position themselves strongly through developing candidate networks, employing inclusive practices, and provide coaching and mentoring programmes that support aspirant candidates who are stepping up as well as attracting those with transferable expertise from the central government, blue light, housing and other contiguous sectors.

So, here are our top 4 learnings to enable district councils to recruit and retain the finance talent that they need to succeed:

Local government needs a reset

“The local government finance system isn’t fit for purpose  our ability to increase revenue is lagging far behind the rate at which costs are increasing, and so much time is devoted to looking backwards (such as dealing with a backlog of accounts) rather than looking forward and addressing opportunity and innovation.” – Trevor Holden – Managing Director, South Norfolk & Broadland District Councils, and Chair of the DCN Chief Executive Group.

The district council fraternity needs to be bold – there is a need for Chief Executives, Finance Directors, the LGA, DCN, CIPFA et al to illustrate more clearly the valuable role that district councils play, and in painting an ambitious vision for the future. “If we’re not seen as being viable and adding value – we’re just going to progress from one crisis to the next, and we’ll either become purely administrative bodies or be subsumed into unitaries” – Robert Cottrill – Chief Executive, Lewes & Eastbourne District Councils.

Give district council finance leaders the levers they need

“Without real financial freedom, such as the ability to set council tax rates or determine planning and licencing fees, finance directors are constrained to managing budgets rather than being truly strategic and innovative. Without that freedom the sector will never attract or retain top talent.” – Ian Miller – Chief Executive, Wyre Forest District Council

Prioritise talent development

“The current cohort of finance leaders need to be tasked with developing our finance leaders of the future”
– Rose Rouse, Chief Executive, Pendle Borough Council.

Career paths need to be designed that (a) illustrate to finance professionals how far a career in local government finance can take them and where it could lead, and (b) how they get there – with an eye continuously on development and progression, aspirant finance professionals need to be given the opportunities to develop their non- finance skills as well their technical expertise (i.e. how to manage relationships and the politics, and how to play an increasingly corporate and strategic role.)

Promote the profession

“The perception in the media of local government is unfortunately predominantly negative – the majority of news stories are about cuts, failures, and poor financial management. Local government can provide fantastic career opportunities and we need to highlight the successes and the success stories” 
– Helen Pluck – Chief Executive, Ipswich Borough Council

There’s a fantastic opportunity for the sector to promote local government as one of the most rewarding places to work – especially for those school-, college-, and university-leavers who are perhaps not certain which exact career path they want to take, but they want an opportunity to make a real difference. There are some genuinely interesting initiatives to bring experienced professionals with transferable skills into the sector (such as CIPFA’s Passport Scheme) as well as to market the sector to those at the start of their careers (such as apprenticeships and graduate schemes such as the LGA’s National Graduate Development Programme). These should be celebrated.

If you’d like further insight or information about CIPFA Penna’s recruitment services or the context of the market please go to www.penna.com or email: Andrew.tromans@penna.com

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