Case Study: Lisa

Lisa Commane

Lisa Commane
Assistant Director ICT Transformation and Customer Services , Coventry City Council

“My CIPFA qualification and finance background have provided a good grounding for my current role which is very broad.”

Why did you choose to work in public services?

What advice would you give current students who are looking to pursue a career in public finance?

We all use public services to varying degrees – right from when we are born, through our childhood at school. Public services affect how we live, influence our life chances, our wellbeing and can affect the dignity we have when we are ill or towards the end of life. I guess I felt - and still feel that I wanted to play a part in making those services as good as they can be and more efficient. I think there’s a huge responsibility that comes with managing the money and a massive opportunity to make a difference.

We need the brightest and best to transform public services in times of austerity and change. The financial, political and sector challenges are complex and that makes for an interesting and rewarding career. It isn’t just about the numbers, it’s about how we translate that into information that drives decision making, leadership in turbulent times and how we work alongside other professions to  address the needs of communities. I don’t think the private sector can compete with that.

Full case study

Why did you choose accountancy as a career?

I studied Biological Science at Warwick University, so completely unrelated. I knew I wanted to do something practical, where I could make a real impact, something interesting and with good career prospects. I started applying for various graduate training schemes and one of them was with KPMG in public sector audit. The rest is history.

Why did you choose to become CIPFA certified?

CIPFA was the qualification of choice for the public sector and my peers at KPMG were doing CIPFA. The partner who recruited me was CPFA qualified and a real advocate for the Institute. The syllabus was most relevant to the job I was doing at the time and I had the desire to work in the public sector long term.

What’s your specialism – please give a brief overview of your role?

My CIPFA qualification and finance background have provided a good grounding for my current role which is very broad. I’m not a traditional accountant and I haven’t been afraid to get involved in work that I know I can add value to. I want to be at the heart of the big decisions and changes that are improving the way Coventry does things and how we deal with the challenges and opportunities that the sector is facing. So I get involved in delivering regeneration schemes and economic growth, leading changes to the way we work as a Council. This involves digital and self-service agenda and customer offer, how we use data and information more effectively, commercialising our services to generate income, innovating, using our assets to best effect including building new ones and selling others.

Can you briefly explain your career journey to-date?

I worked for KPMG public sector audit from 1999-2003 where I delivered a challenging array of internal and external audit services to a range of public sector clients across the country. I progressed within the Firm from graduate trainee, to Audit Senior and Assistant Manager.

Following my qualification as a CIPFA accountant I joined a newly established public sector advisory team at Deloitte. I developed a broad range of consultancy skills that have been essential in my career.

In March 2006 I was approached to lead a new team at Coventry to provide financial and commercial advice to complex capital schemes, and the regeneration agenda.

I was appointed to Assistant Director Special Projects Finance in 2009, aged 31. I transformed the division to make it more strongly connected to solving business challenges and diversifying into transformation.

In 2013 I took responsibility for Transformation and in 2014 for Customer Services and ICT strategy and operations. I have completely restructured the new division of 200 FTE delivering £2.2m savings – enabling faster decisions and improving the transformation approach within the Council. I am leading new ways of working necessary to modernise the Council and deliver savings through a £59m office rationalisation programme that is kick-starting the Friargate business district next to Coventry railway station.

How does the CIPFA qualification help you in your day-to-day tasks, and long-term?

The CIPFA network is incredibly important – in terms of joining up public services, sharing ideas and continuing to develop as a professional. Technical skills and qualification are vital – a must. Longer term it is CIPFA Members’ ability to develop thought leadership and for its Members to contribute their energy and softer skills to public services that are key.

What do you like most about your CIPFA membership?

Being part of the CIPFA family is important – I have volunteered on Regional Council for 12 years and was Midlands President for two years. Giving something back to the Institute is important for me – and that is about providing opportunities for members and students to get together socially and for professional development, to encourage new members to join the Institute through Sixth Form Management Games or through the Apprenticeship scheme.