Last month iMPOWER presented at the Association of Local Authority Treasurers annual retreat in Oxford, with 70 public sector Finance Directors (FDs) stepping back from the day-to-day, reflecting and discussing the challenges and opportunities they face.
Some important and clear messages emerged from the discussions:
- There is a need for Local Authority and Health CFO’s to get acquainted – urgently! There was an acknowledgement from those at the Retreat that they know little or nothing about each other and their respective worlds. Local authorities are more democratic organisations – and therefore more transparent – than Health and are therefore culturally very different. With health and social care integration (and pooled budgets) very much on the agenda, this needs to happen quickly.
- Underestimate point 1 at your peril. It has taken legislation in Scotland to get health and local authorities working together (see Public Bodies (Joint Working) (Scotland) Act 2014).
- Data is key. This point comes up time and time again. iMPOWER have written on this several times (see here, here and here). We need to be bolder and less risk averse with how we use, share and interpret data, with government playing a key role in leading and enabling this.
- Rob Whiteman posed an interesting question on the Early Intervention and Prevention (EIP) issue – “Do we need an EIP equivalent of Net Present Value (NPV)?” to identified EIP activity and understand its value and impact.
- Leadership with impact. How do local authority FDs become more strategic influencers, be bolder and show more leadership in these times of unprecedented financial constraints?
- Are the finance community equipped for the new age? The role of finance within the council is changing and becoming more complex. New delivery models, an increasingly commercial approach to investment and budgets aligned to outcomes rather than services are just a couple of examples of this. The public sector finance function is evolving and CFOs and their teams need to be ready with the new set of skills that these developments will require.
- Demand management is necessary. There was broad agreement from delegates (including local authorities, police and fire services) that demand management and insight-lead prevention were fundamental in achieving the system transformation (and therefore savings) required.
With the spending review approaching, local authority finance leaders will face testing times with further budget cuts expected. However, if we can begin to crack some of the issues outlined above – better working with health, data and demand management – then actually the future starts to look more positive. In fact, with strong leadership from FDs councils can be even more effective leaders and guardians of thriving communities and localities.