CIPFA Scotland: finance staff must lead amid austerity, says Whiteman

17 Mar 16

Public finance professionals are uniquely placed to give organisations the leadership, strategy and hope they need to keep up morale in the face of continued austerity, CIPFA chief executive Rob Whiteman has told the opening session of the CIPFA Scotland conference in Glasgow.

Speaking less than 24 hours after George Osborne’s Budget confirmed an additional £3.5bn of cuts in the pipeline, Whiteman warned delegates that there was a danger of their parent authorities losing hope and adopting the mentality of the victim.

He drew a parallel with Chelsea FC under Jose Mourinho, where triumph had turned to a sullen and paranoid mood, which came to see the club as the passive victim of malevolent referees and journalists.

“People have got to have a sense of, we’re going in the right direction, we understand the narrative, we know where we’re going,” Whiteman said. “Finance is the driver in dealing with things in a positive sense. In negative circumstances we have to set the tone in how these organisations think”

It was for finance professionals to spread a “realistic, but can-do” approach, he said, and thereby to provide hope throughout the organisation that there was confidence about the way forward.

Speaking later to Public Finance, Whiteman acknowledged that public policy was diverging at an ever-increasing rate as a result of devolution, not just between Westminster and the devolved parliaments but also within England.

He said that CIPFA was well constituted to adapt to and service this new diversity because of its federal structure: “What unites us is an interest to serve the public finances well in the areas in which we work by developing the skills and expertise of the people we have in the field,” he said.

However much public policy diverged, the core skills for sound handling of the public finances remained the same, and a federal CIPFA was well set to share best practice among its members. “Remember,” Whiteman said, “at least half of our students are overseas.”

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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