Mover and shaker

29 Jun 12
Sir Tony Redmond could have been a dancer but chose a career in local government instead. Dancing’s loss was accountancy’s gain, and now he is taking on a fresh challenge – becoming CIPFA president with the public sector facing a financial situation ‘as tough as it gets’
By Mike Thatcher | 1 July 2012

Sir Tony Redmond could have been a dancer but chose a career in local government instead. Dancing’s loss was accountancy’s gain, and now he is taking on a fresh challenge – becoming CIPFA president with the public sector facing a financial situation ‘as tough as it gets’

Tony Redmond, Photo: Kesteven

Sir Tony Redmond will need to show some fancy footwork when he becomes CIPFA president in July just as the spending cuts begin to bite and public services come under increasing pressure.

But this should not be a problem for someone with his leadership and financial experience – and, of course, his dancing prowess. Redmond’s parents ran a dance academy in Liverpool when he was growing up and he trained as a teacher of Latin American and ballroom dancing.

‘I used to go to bed at night to the background music of Victor Silvester and Joe Loss. By the time I was five or six I was being taught to dance,’ he tells me as we meet at CIPFA’s London office.

In the end, a secure job at Liverpool City Council won out over his terpsichoreal talents and Redmond began a rapid rise up the finance and management ladder. He retains a keen interest in dance, however, and (along with Wayne Sleep) is a patron of the Allied Dancing Association.

Redmond eventually became chief accountant at Liverpool, deputy director of finance at Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council, and director of finance and deputy chief executive at Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council.

Chief executive positions then followed at the London Borough of Harrow and the Commission for Local Administration in England and Local Government Ombudsman (where he was also chair). 1n 2011 he was awarded a knighthood for services to local government.

But his biggest challenge may be yet to come, as he prepares to take up the institute’s presidency at its annual conference in his old stamping ground of Liverpool.

Redmond admits that public sector staff, and CIPFA members in particular, are experiencing a financial climate that few, if any, have seen before. ‘Although I’ve encountered many occasions when we have made serious cuts in the public sector together with reorganisations, I think this is as tough as it gets,’ he says.

He’s reluctant to get too involved in the austerity versus growth debate, but says pointedly: ‘It seems to me that the increasingly held view on this is that austerity alone will not secure the right outcome.’

The new president argues that the institute has an important role to play in helping members and the public sector survive the twists and turns to come.

‘It is incumbent on me to support people in difficult circumstances and help them through what is going to be a tough time. We all have to stand up and seize the initiative as best we can.’

He believes that CIPFA’s Fixing the Foundations campaign shows the critical importance of good financial management by governments both at home and abroad. ‘Such is the global impact of the problems that we are encountering at the moment, that it is very difficult to be insular. The ingredients that will lead to success go well beyond the boundaries of the UK.’

Redmond says that he will be a ‘listening’ president and will spend a good deal of time travelling round the regions hearing the views of members. In this, he will be helped by a large network of contacts developed through his extensive involvement with CIPFA.

Over the years, he has been chair of the institute’s Local Government Committee, Treasury Management Panel, Members and Students Development Board, Education and Training Centre and Group Board as well as honorary treasurer.

Chris Duffield, now the town clerk and chief executive of the Corporation of London, believes that Redmond is the ideal leader for ­challenging times. ‘Tony has the financial background and, as a former chief executive and ombudsman, he knows how to lead and direct. But he’s also a warm human being and will bring people with him,’ he says.

Mary Ney, the chief executive of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, worked for Redmond when she was director of social services at Harrow. She says he is the type of person who copes well in times of change.

‘Tony is one of those very genuine people who is very talented but is also able to share that experience in a supportive way. He has a quiet style. I don’t think that in eight years I ever saw him lose his temper, which was certainly an achievement.’

He’s going to need all those people skills in the tough times ahead. While Redmond was chief executive at Harrow, from 1987 to 2001, the political leadership of the borough changed three times; from Conservative control to a hung council with the Liberal Democrats as the main party and then Labour control.

But he was able to weave his way through the tricky politics without putting a foot wrong. ‘I enjoyed the rough and tumble of having to manage what was a changing political landscape on a regular basis,’ he says.

As Local Government Ombudsman he also performed a tricky balancing act – allowing town halls to learn from their mistakes and service failings rather than feeling beleaguered. Redmond was keen for the ombudsman to be seen as a means of advancing best practice rather than merely a complaints forum.

‘I didn’t want the ombudsman service to be perceived as negative, always critical. My mantra was always “improve service delivery”. The root to that was to resolve the complaint, find a remedy, make the recommendation to the council and then improve the service.’

This approach is backed up by statistics that show the number of findings of maladministration against local authorities in England diminished in the nine years he ran the service.

Since retiring as ombudsman in November 2010, Redmond’s dance card has included several new suitors. He’s commissioner of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England, treasurer of Unicef UK and provides independent challenge to Thames Water’s ­business plan and pricing policy.

In whatever spare time is left, he follows ­Liverpool FC, studies wine (he’s taking a degree in oenology) and enjoys visits to the ballet. But, he admits, that his main passion is his family, comprising his wife Christine, four children and five grandchildren.

As we come to the end of the interview, I ask what differentiates Redmond from his presidential predecessors. We discuss several possibilities before he comes up with the ­obvious response.

‘I’m the only one who can do a really mean rumba,’ he suggests.

Curriculum Vitae

2001–2010 - Chair and chief executive, Commission for Local Administration in England and Local Government Ombudsman
1987–2001 - Chief executive, London Borough of Harrow
1982–1987 - Director of finance/deputy chief executive, Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council
1979–1982 - Deputy director of finance, Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council
1975–1979 - Chief accountant, Liverpool City Council
1962–1975 - Various management and finance roles, Liverpool City Council

Sir Tony Redmond will take over as CIPFA president at the institute’s AGM in Liverpool on July 3

This article first appeared in the July issue of Public Finance

CIPFA logo

Did you enjoy this article?