Council chief financial officers plan for life after spending review


More than twenty of local government’s leading chief financial officers (CFOs) have met at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy’s (CIPFA) London headquarters to discuss the challenges facing councils beyond this week’s spending review.

The group, which met on Friday 15 October, included representatives of all of the different types of local authorities (districts, counties, unitaries, police etc) in England, Scotland and Wales.

Some of the key conclusions of the summit were:

  • Localism - The Comprehensive Spending Review will create opportunities as well as threats for local government. Councils must respond as positively as possible to the expected tough financial settlements and demonstrate that localism really is the best model for securing high performing public services.
  • Joined-up Leadership - Strong leadership will be a pre-requisite for successful organisations over the next few years. In local government that means officers and elected members working closely together with a shared commitment to deliver the best possible outcomes for local communities.
    Efficiency - Councils have a very positive track record of delivering year on year efficiency savings. It is essential that this work is continued in order to minimise cuts to public-facing services.
    Vision - Medium and long term planning demands greater attention in the period ahead. Councils must develop a clear vision of what the organisation and its services will look like downstream when funding is expected to stabilise.
  • Engaging and Listening - Engaging with local people and listening to their views is central to localism. Councils must redouble their efforts to involve local people and communities in decision making about needs and priorities, design and planning of services, allocation of scarce resources, cuts etc.
    Joined-up Budgets - Pooling resources across public bodies has significant potential to lead to more efficient and effective services to the public.
  • Managing Risk - Risk management will be a critical capability over the next few years. Councils will need to be realistic about the scale and volume of changes which they attempt to engineer in order to cope with reduced funding.
  • Financial Skills - Financial management skills will also be critical. Councils need to develop greater financial awareness and competence in the general managers responsible for managing front-line service budgets.
  • Maximising Value - Councils need to maintain a focus on the significant resources at their disposal rather than on the funding reductions at the margin. The challenge is to deliver as much value as possible from the resources available.  

Steve Freer, CIPFA’s Chief Executive, who chaired the CFOs’ summit, said:

“CFOs are under no illusions about the scale of the challenges which councils are going to face over the next few years. They realise that very tough decisions lie ahead and that these are likely to result in major change agendas in all authorities. Driving out savings whilst retaining the necessary capacity to deliver change projects successfully will be a critical balance for councils to strike.”


CIPFA press office
T: 020 7543 5600

Notes to Editors:

1. CIPFA spokespeople, including Steve Freer, are available for interview on the Comprehensive Spending Review.

2. About CIPFA

CIPFA, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, is the professional body for people in public finance. Our 14,000 members work throughout the public services, in national audit agencies, in major accountancy firms, and in other bodies where public money needs to be effectively and efficiently managed. As the world’s only professional accountancy body to specialise in public services, CIPFA’s portfolio of qualifications are the foundation for a career in public finance. They include the benchmark professional qualification for public sector accountants as well as a postgraduate diploma for people already working in leadership positions. They are taught by our in-house CIPFA Education and Training Centre as well as other places of learning around the world. We also champion high performance in public services, translating our experience and insight into clear advice and practical services. They include information and guidance, courses and conferences, property and asset management solutions, consultancy and interim people for a range of public sector clients. Globally, CIPFA shows the way in public finance by standing up for sound public financial management and good governance. We work with donors, partner governments, accountancy bodies and the public sector around the world to advance public finance and support better public services.