Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance
Starting as a trainee accountant in the NHS, Andy progressed via roles in different parts of the NHS to become CFO of UHCW in 2004. After four years he became the deputy chief executive, before being appointed chief executive two years later. He is also the senior responsible officer for the Coventry and Warwickshire STP/ICS. Andy has been a CIPFA member since 1994.
Sarah: What have been the greatest challenges you’ve faced in your career and within the public finance sector as a whole?
Andy: It’s difficult to think of anything before COVID! Without a doubt, it has been the biggest challenge. In some ways, it’s one of my most fulfilling periods, and that often comes out of challenge.
As public sector finance professionals, we’ve been through incredibly tough times following the 2008 financial crisis. Whilst many in the public sector will look at the health sector with some envy as we were partially protected, austerity led to the need to make some tough decisions. There are lots of services we used to provide that we don’t anymore. We want to provide the best for the populations we serve, and when you stop doing things, irrespective of what that decision is based on, it will hit someone who sees value in it.
Going forward, I think the government will want to invest in the public sector off the back of COVID, having seen the value of what it does as far as managing a crisis is concerned.
S: There are certainly going to have to be some difficult decisions to make about spending. What are your thoughts on the potential impacts of cuts to training budgets?
A: If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of lifelong learning so that you’re prepared for when change comes. What I’ve strongly observed during the pandemic is that those organisations and teams that succeeded were those who were able to learn and adapt quickly.
Lifelong learning plays into how you prepare for unprecedented situations. It’s how you can be ready for change and keep on top of what’s happening in the world around you. You don’t become a qualified accountant and then stop there. You need to be looking at how you learn and develop, including softer skills such as leadership as well as financial skills. When you get into a crisis, you need to be able to adapt quickly. That is about learning both independently and from others.
S: So true. And, in your opinion, what are the skills that NHS finance professionals will need for the years ahead?
A: Well, I think that all finance professionals, whether they’re working in the NHS or elsewhere, should continuously consider what stakeholders need from them, how this will impact on their job roles and therefore what skills they need to adopt or improve in order to ‘future-proof’ their organisation.
Central to that has to be the ability to gather and analyse data and turn it into information that informs business decisions. We are in a world that’s awash with data, but we have to make it meaningful. We must be a lot more data aware – and digitally aware.
A few months ago, most people working in NHS finance would never have thought they could do most of their job from home. What does the new normal mean? Future professionals will absolutely have to go beyond the traditional skills of accountancy.
S: Is it difficult for NHS accountants to decide on CPD options that are right for them and their organisation? If recent times have taught us anything, it’s that things change fast!
A: Yes, choosing appropriate CPD can be challenging, particularly when we don’t know exactly what the future will look like and given that, more than ever, we need to ensure a good return on CPD investment. But what has happened this year won’t be the last black swan event we face, and finance professionals in the NHS will need to be resilient to future disruption and change. Helping public finance professionals prepare for the future is core to CIPFA’s mission and why I’m so proud to be President.
CIPFA has recently published ‘Key Competencies for Public Sector Finance Professionals’ which brings together the skills and knowledge required for a robust, resilient and ethical public finance profession, both now and in the future. While not everyone will require every competency in their career journey, it provides a valuable conversation starter. It is designed to help identify where an individual or a team’s training needs may lie – whether that’s technical accounting proficiency, increasing public value or leadership, influencing and negotiating.
This article was originally published in the HFMA magazine.