CIPFA president: We can rebuild trust in public services

11 Jul 18

CIPFA has a great opportunity to “flip the negative narrative” and rebuild trust in public services, the institute’s new president said this morning.

Sarah Howard at CIPFA conference

Sarah Howard addresses the CIPFA conference this morning Photo: Rafa Bastos


In her opening address to the CIPFA conference in Bournemouth, Sarah Howard highlighted that “pervasive” negativity had taken hold.

“I see what appears to be a universal breakdown in trust – whether we look at central government, local government, NHS or the private sector – the examples are well known,” she said, singling out Brexit, funding problems at Northamptonshire County Council and the collapse of the outsourcing and construction giant Carillion.

But Howard struck an optimistic note arguing that public finance professionals could hold the solutions to some of these problems.

“If we look at public services, there is an opportunity for CIPFA to rebuild trust through simpler more transparent reporting, through more effective audit and through enhanced support of our members,” she told delegates.

Howard suggested that, while stewardship of public funds and compliant accounts were “very important”, these were not the best use of CIPFA members’ time.

The audit profession, she added, was “at a crossroads” and CIPFA was well placed to lead the debate about its future.

Elsewhere in her speech, Howard stressed the importance of collaboration across the public, private and third sectors, and stressed that great things were possible when a diverse group of people came together to focus on their strengths.

She also said she wanted to use her year as president to inspire the next generation.

Citing local government expert Tony Travers, she said the sector was “brilliantly led” and something the institute needed to “shout about”.

“Creating that positive narrative is an important part of tapping into future generations,” she told delegates.

“We know they will live and work longer, will be looking to find meaning in their work, driven by a stronger sense of purpose and social good – that’s certainly what I’m seeing in our CIPFA trainees – and we need to take the opportunity to tap in to that and engage the next generation.”

To reinforce this point, Howard was joined on stage by Sophie Medwell, president of the CIPFA students’ network.

Medwell told delegates that millennials would represent a third of the global workforce by 2020 and had very different expectations about their working lives compared to their older counterparts.

“The concept of a job for life is alien to them,” she said.

She issued a “call to arms” to CIPFA members to think about their recruitment and talent plans, and stressed the importance of future-proofing the public finance profession with the technical know-how they will need as technology changes.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and

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