Senior public sector finance professionals look ahead with lessons learned from the pandemic

More sustained action required for next generation of financial leaders

The realities of senior public sector finance leaders’ management of the COVID-19 pandemic are shared in a new report from ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and CA ANZ (Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand).

Published in Leading recovery: the evolving role of senior finance leadership in the public sector, senior finance professionals highlight key lessons learned from the pandemic, such as focusing on effective, accountable decision-making, as well the importance of improving data sharing and analysis across the public sector. The Public Sector’s response to the pandemic demonstrated how the sector can adapt to change.

Attendees at various global roundtables, including round tables attended by participants from the public sector in Wales, identified three major areas where the public sector faces difficulties in the years ahead: recruiting and retaining staff, managing budget reductions and adapting to major challenges, such as climate change.

Building on the experience of the pandemic, ACCA and CA ANZ say there are key lessons for public sector finance leaders to focus on, including transforming systems to build organisational resilience and make better use of data. They must rethink leadership approaches, to empower staff and provide visible leadership. And they need to ensure their organisations adapt to new ways of working to focus on ‘purpose, then place’ and break down barriers withing and between organisations.

Setting out a range of recommendations to improve systems, leadership and new ways of working, the accountancy bodies recommend that public sector employers need to be more innovative and creative to attract and retain staff, including improving hybrid working with a focus on ‘purpose, then place’, as well as using a range of different entry routes for trainees, and supporting staff to develop new skills.

Responding to the report’s publication, Head of ACCA Cymru/Wales, Lloyd Powell said:

“Wales’ finance leaders were pivotal during Covid as public bodies, from councils to health boards, had to implement new processes and systems overnight to ensure support reached those who needed it. However, the new normal of ‘permacrisis’ means the public sector needs to build in greater resilience through better systems, such as our use of data, and attracting more skilled people to support the delivery of public services in Wales.”

Catherine Phillips, Executive Director of Finance, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, who participated in one of the round tables which informed the report, said: “I welcome this report from ACCA/CAANZ and its recommendations for future focus. Senior finance leaders will need to respond with innovative and creative approaches as they tackle the challenges ahead. This will include developing fresh approaches to recruitment, training and retention of finance staff. Similarly, senior finance leaders will have to be bold in the decisions they make as they deal with funding reductions in the future. The public sector also needs to keep pace with the way in which society is evolving, ensuring it responds to the climate change and the ESG agenda, as well as rapid developments in digitalisation and automation.”