Senior public sector finance professionals look ahead with lessons learned from the pandemic but more action required in Scotland

Susan Love (Strategic Engagement Lead for ACCA Scotland)

THE realities of senior public sector finance leaders’ management of the COVID-19 pandemic have been shared in a new global 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. Attendees at various global roundtables, including a Scottish event, 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.

Scottish participants highlighted staffing as one of the most acute challenges they faced, whether from intensifying competition to retain qualified staff or lack of training pathways to bring on new staff. This is backed up by figures provided to ACCA by Skills Development Scotland that show that only 9% of accountancy apprentices are training in the public sector.

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 introducing more entry routes for trainees, such as apprenticeships.

Responding to the report’s publication, ACCA Scotland’s Strategic Engagement Lead Susan Love said: “Scotland’s finance leaders were pivotal during Covid as public bodies, from councils to health boards, had to implement new processes and systems overnight to ensure public money 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 how we use and share data, and attracting more skilled people to support the delivery of public services in Scotland.”

ACCA Scotland Committee Chair, and a director at Audit Scotland, Elaine Boyd said: “I know how rewarding a career in public service can be. I have had the privilege of a varied and interesting public sector journey across the NHS and Audit Scotland. Working in the public sector is hugely satisfying because you feel like your contribution is making a difference. As we emerge from the pandemic sharpening our financial skills will be critical in developing future public service delivery models.”

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