Why the public sector needs CAs
ICAS speaks to Nick Bennett CA, Partner at Scott-Moncrieff about working in and with the public sector to find out what it is like, the main challenges today and why it can be a rewarding career choice.
What do you enjoy about working in the public sector?
The variety of the organisations and the work involved: from auditing central government bodies like the prison service to undertaking value for money studies on the delivery of health and social care locally to reviewing financial models for new schools, there is always a new challenge and you are dealing with services that are high in the public’s consciousness.
There is also the real opportunity to improve financial management and value for money in the delivery of services to organisations which play a crucial role in our society.
What are the current challenges?
On a macro level, the challenge facing most public bodies is to do more with fewer resources. Life expectancy, expectations of citizens and the opportunity for technological development are all increasing at a time when there are continuing financial challenges and increasing levels of uncertainty about what the future holds.
Within individual parts of the public sector these challenges play out as staffing shortages in key areas, ageing infrastructure, and difficult decisions on where to prioritise input and resources.
How can a CA help/what particular skills do CAs offer which is of benefit in the public sector?
The CA can bring an expert, objective analysis to financial issues confronting the public sector. The ability to appraise and make well argued, logical but balanced conclusions in relation to financial and service information is a skill that is desperately required across the breadth of public sector organisations.
The expertise that working in the profession and CA training brings, means that individuals gain respect for their independence of mind, analytical skills and the ability to understand and communicate difficult concepts and decisions.
Public sector organisations can also benefit from the experience that a CA might have gained from working with a variety of industries. The experience of seeing how other commercial and not for profit sector bodies address problems and issues provides valuable learning areas for those who work exclusively in one sector.
What advice do you have for CAs interested in working in the public sector?
Keep an open mind. The profit-making motive in private sector companies is its single driver. Whereas, in the public sector, the drivers are much more complex for example, delivery of life-line services, regulating service providers, delivering universal healthcare to all.
There are often frustrations with such diverse objectives but ultimately, the balance of promoting financial responsibility and sustainability whilst acknowledging the importance of service provision, is much more interesting for a finance professional working in this sector.
Nick is also a member of ICAS's public sector panel.