Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

Public Finance Business Partners: influencing better public sector performance

08-11-2017

The current volatile and unpredictable economic environment, presents many pressures on the public sector. Populism, climate change, instability in productivity, ageing population, outdated infrastructure and high unemployment are just a few. Although the experience of countries such as the UK, USA and Germany are dominant in today’s news, these pressures are being experienced by many other countries to different degrees.

Every government, as part of its mandate, intervenes by using several measures to address those pressures. Yet too often we hear stories of public sector entities rolling out ‘responsive’ programmes, projects and other initiatives which sooner than later are halted, shelved or reworked.

Interestingly too, there is growing expectation that the public sector should ‘do more with much less’ so public administrators are required to be more efficient and effective. These challenges provide the public finance profession a great opportunity to step in and positively influence better decision making and delivery of public services.  

Introducing the public finance business role to the sector is one of methods to improve decision making and service delivery, as the role ensures that professionals have the right skills and behaviours to support their organisation’s performance. These behaviours go beyond the technical and traditional skills that are typically required, and ensure that professionals are also good communicators and negotiators.

Creating the right environment will be crucial to successfully implementing public finance business partnering in public sector entities and chief financial officers have an important role in promoting its benefits. Trust and credibility are key qualities that the public finance function must exhibit. By doing so, heads of units/divisions will more readily invite the finance function to offer advice on the ambitions, forecasts and performance of their portfolio. This will help greatly in addressing issues very early rather than later because of the exclusion of the finance function, especially where they are viewed as hindrance rather than a strategic advisory and support mechanism to be tapped into.

The traditional way of engaging departments will also have to change, with the finance team equipping themselves so that they have a better understanding of what the organisation as a whole wants to achieve and how the respective units/will contribute to those goals. By doing so, public finance business partners will be able to meaningfully contribute and provide workable recommendations to their peers and clients. Public finance business partners are encouraged to work alongside other units/departments to support and advise their strategic and operational decision making. 

Public finance business partnering cannot just be introduced overnight. It has to be taken on like any other strategic initiative, with clearly defined objectives and resources to address individual units’ and the organisation’s needs. The finance function has to carefully plan, implement and monitor against agreed performance targets. A viable business case should be made and, as expected by other units and departments, the finance department should practise what it preaches and demonstrate through this delivery model that sound public financial management complements better service delivery. CFOs are challenged to leverage their public finance business partners as part of their strategy to add value to public sector performance.