A leading role for the government finance function

23 Feb 17

The government will be making some major decisions in the years ahead. It’s crucial that the finance function takes its seat at the top table

The size and breadth of the government’s finance function makes it a unique place to work. With around 10,000 people working in 39 organisations, responsible for over £750bn expenditure a year, it operates at a scale greater than most private sector organisations. We face significant challenges; with large-scale public reform, tough Spending Review settlements and the consequences of the EU referendum result to manage, ensuring that the effective use of resources is firmly at the heart of decision making has never been so important.

It is in this context that we recently hosted our annual Government Finance and Internal Audit Conference, which had the theme of Confident Finance and Assurance. Following publication of the Financial Management Reform programme in 2013, we have embarked on an ambitious change programme across government finance. The annual conference, as ever, was a good time to come together, review where we are and get views on our priorities for the year ahead.

This year, speakers from the private sector and the US talked about the role of finance in different organisations. It’s important to consider how we work with other functions and professions across departments and agencies to deliver maximum value for taxpayers. At the panel sessions, we heard from people in commercial and digital areas, as well as from policymakers.

It is critical that finance takes its seat at the top table when the big government decisions are made. The Financial Management Reform programme therefore remains a priority for both myself and government finance leaders, and was an important theme at the conference.

What came across strongly was that a high-performing, diverse finance function needs great people in the right roles. We have broadened entry routes through graduate and apprenticeship programmes, and taken a more joined-up approach to recruitment. Last year, we launched our Government Finance Academy. Since then, we have delivered courses, and established a curriculum career planning tool to help staff identify and access learning and development.

Given the scale of government finance, we need to be collaborative, standardising and sharing activity to improve efficiency and effectiveness. We have designed and are embedding global principles for our common processes in finance. Last year, we launched the cross-government Tax Centre of Excellence, which is now servicing 22 departments and agencies. This year, we will be developing the Technical Accounting Centre of Excellence.

We also need to keep improving our understanding of what we get for our money, to ensure we achieve the best possible value for taxpayers. We have conducted 14 “costing projects”, which provide financial insight on cross-cutting, complex areas of public spending, covering £115bn of expenditure. This year, we have worked with economists, statisticians and policy colleagues across departments to set out what we spend, how well we understand the outputs and outcomes, and what more we can do to maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of public spending.

Linked to this, we will be focusing more and more in the year ahead on planning and performance, ensuring financial plans align with business plans, and that finance plays a central role in making tough decisions.

Working in finance, we have a unique perspective that cuts across functions, with access to the data and analysis to help leaders make evidence-based decisions. It is essential we make the most of this, as we support the government in its ambitious plans for the year ahead.

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