In the UK we are possibly living through the most politically tumultuous period of our lives following the vote to leave the European Union (EU) on 23 June.
Conversely, a number of public sector leaders identified far-reaching consequences for funding of public services, such as EU structural funds and access to a wide pool of skills and talent for health and social care. But they also highlighted that immigration as a result of free movement throughout the EU had placed a fiscal strain on local government, particularly in the southeast. Due to state aid rules, local authorities were also restricted in the range of local relief that can be used to incentivise local growth. Potentially changing procurement rules may also provide local government and health with more scope to be dynamic in appointing suppliers. But overall the experts concluded that the benefits EU membership brings to the public sector outweigh the drawbacks.
Well, what did we learn from the run up to the referendum? Experts weren’t listened to, there was no ‘Plan B’ for an out-of-Europe vote and inaccurate financial information about how much the EU cost the UK was flaunted on the back of buses to influence the public vote. It is also now abundantly clear that decoupling the British state from the EU will cause tremendous upheaval for public services for many years.
But now is a time like no other. In a world of ‘resetting’ the finances, it is a time for the voice of the finance profession to be heard and speak ‘truth to power’. Finance professionals must advocate strong technical financial and analytical skills across government so that the best possible policy decisions are made in respect to shaping the future of the UK. We need to rise to the challenge and work across teams to increase the financial literacy of the civil service. In doing so, it is crucial that we work with government to assess our financial resilience in the light of the vote, and ensure that, whatever else, we have in place strong, robust financial management.