Government Finance Function ‘helped save Carillion jobs’

1 Nov 18

Whitehall’s cross-departmental finance function helped secure jobs when the outsourcing giant Carillion collapsed earlier this year, its chief has claimed.

Speaking at an Institute for Government event today, Mike Driver said joined-up action helped facilitate a successful response.

“Without the [Government Finance Function] there would have been a department-by-department response – instead there was a multi-departmental approach.

“If we had not had that approach many more people would have lost their jobs.”

Driver, who is GFF head and chief financial officer at the Ministry of Justice, also said the finance profession was crucial in ensuring government delivers better outcomes amid a “challenging economic environment [and] the delivery of Brexit”.

He also noted that “we are in the middle of a digital revolution”. Better financial decisions were “a core requirement” to cope with these changes.

But other speakers at the event were more sceptical about the finance function’s influence and contribution in Whitehall.

Martin Wheatley, senior fellow at the IfG, said: “I think the key test for the development of the GFF would be whether central government has senior professional finance people at the top table.

“It will be interesting to see, in five years’ time, how many permanent secretaries have a finance background.”

But he acknowledged that finance professionalism within central government “has moved on greatly”.

But Jill Rutter, programme director at the IfG and chair of the event, queried whether finance directors in government have enough status to impact policy. She cited the roll out of universal credit as a project that could potentially have benefited from greater input from finance experts.

Responding, Driver said: “I think finance directors in organisations are much more confident than they were a few years ago.

“As we advise our ministers on what is achievable, feasibility is important. We should not be promising to do things that we cannot.”

Driver took over from Julian Kelly as head of the GFF in June last year and maintains a seat on the Treasury board as well as in his ‘home’ department of the MoJ.

Speaking to PF last year, Driver said he had ambitions to make the function more joined-up and collaborative.

Speaking at the IfG yesterday, he reiterated his vision of the GFF as putting finance “at the heart” of decision-making.

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