Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

Cat Little, Director General Public Spending and Head of the Government Finance Function

Cat LittleCat is the Director General, Public Spending , Non executive director, and Head of the Government Finance Function for HM Treasury, ensuring the delivery of HM Treasury’s work programme including supporting the government’s objectives to ensure effective control of and value for money in public spending. She is a Chartered Public Finance Accountant (CPFA), member of CIPFA and a member of CIPFA Council.

Beginning her career at PWC, Cat spent 11 years working on assurance and advisory projects related to government and the wider public sector. In 2013 Cat joined the Civil Service as Director of Finance and Digital at the Legal Aid Agency, before moving to the role of Group Finance Director at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in August 2016, to oversee all aspects of financial management across the MoJ.

In 2017 Cat joined the Ministry of Defence (MoD) as Director General, Finance with responsibility for all aspects of financial management and control, including the overall Defence budget, investments and commercial strategy. Cat’s latest move occurred in early 2020, when she became Director General, Public Spending for HM Treasury.

Why did you study for a CIPFA accounting qualification?

My first role out of university was with the Big Four accounting firm PwC. As part of their graduate training programme, I entered the CIPFA Fast Track programme which enabled me to complete a professional accountancy qualification whilst working. This was a hugely valuable programme which held me in good stead in the years to come.

The CIPFA qualification gave me a license to operate well beyond chartered public finance accountancy. It opened many doors for me.

Also, the part time learning combined with working enabled me to find the right work/life balance.  When you are choosing a qualification or training scheme it is important to pick a mode of learning which works well for you and is ‘doable’.

Today, I am a CIPFA Council member and I encourage people who are interested in accounting and finance to take a serious look at the range of training on offer with CIPFA.  A CIPFA qualification is well-regarded in both the private and public sectors. 

Why do you enjoy working in the public sector?

By its very nature, the public sector is an environment where the focus is on ‘acting in the public interest’ – therefore, I’ve often felt that my work is valuable to society. Also, I have always been fascinated with how a country is run and the ethical values driving decision making with the aim of making the country a better place to live. 

In the UK, what I see now is a generation of new entrants coming into public sector finance and accounting who are really attracted to public service and are driven by a desire to create long term sustainable change.

What advice would you give a new CIPFA student?

It’s often taken for granted that accountants are good at what they do, especially from a technical perspective.  But in today’s rapidly changing world, we need accountants with broader skills, including knowing how to interface with digital developments, and to be able to create effective relationships, bring simplicity to complex financial issues, and engage our customers and partners. 

Also, we need graduates who are credible, who can influence, and who can make the most of their expertise.  This is something you can’t learn at college.  It is a different set of skills.  A CIPFA qualification acts as a catalyst to help propel you forward in your career and you will need to bring with you a talent for innovation as well as an open mind set.

What further reading would you recommend to anyone working in public finance?

For a book which helps to bring to life motivation and how to motivate people I would highly recommend, ‘Drive’ by Daniel H. Pink. Another book which I’ll also suggest is on data visualisation. It is ‘Information is Beautiful’ by David McCandless.