Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

David Smith

David SmithDavid Smith is the Executive Director of Resources at Broadacres Housing Association, a not-for-profit organisation that manages more than 6,500 homes and five care homes in the North Yorkshire area. He is responsible for finance, legal, procurement, facilities and catering across the association. 

David joined Broadacres in 2019 from professional services firm EY,where he was an Associate Partner leading public sector accounting advice in the UK and Ireland, with additional responsibility for Europe and the Middle East. Prior to that, he worked for PwC as a Director, where he provided specialist technical accounting advice to the public sector. 

What led you to become a CIPFA member?

I’ve been a member of CIPFA since 2014. I was a ‘bye-law 5' admission, which allows for accountants in the public sector with accountancy qualifications from another recognised body to be admitted. I qualified as an accountant in 2000 but, having advised the public sector for the best part of 20 years, I thought it was important to have that CIPFA qualification, to enable me to be more on a par with my clients at the time.

When did you first become attracted to a career in the public sector, and particularly public finance?

My grandfather was a very senior civil servant, so that attracted me to the public sector, and I come from a finance-oriented family, so it was a kind of merger of the two strands. It was quite clear for me early on that I wanted to be an accountant, and the public sector had a real draw; it always has its nuances in terms of finance and accounting and that appealed to me. I didn’t want to be a traditional bookkeeper.

There was an element of playing a part in society. But it was also the fact that I could more or less guarantee that every day wouldn’t be the same.

What have been the highlights or biggest successes of your career to date?

I’ve been fortunate to have travelled widely in my time at PwC and EY, including spells in the Middle East (in the UAE and Saudi Arabia), as well as spending time in Italy, Poland and Spain, and advising governments in places such as South Africa and Malaysia. That element has been fascinating. I’m very proud of all I’ve achieved in my time to date.

I’ve worked on some very technical issues, too, such as determining an accounting policy for nuclear liability, and also accounting for religious and heritage assets worldwide.

How has being a CIPFA member supported you in your career?

Part of the reason I wanted to join was its sense of community, and being able to tap into resources. For example, you can engage with professionals who have shared values, and who can offer advice and guidance from their own experiences. It has been been pivotal in my career – that sense of community, sharing and understanding has been very helpful.

What advice would you give to people who are beginning their career in public finance?

Go for it. Ask for opportunities, volunteer for things, explore areas that are of interest to you. I used to be involved in recruitment for PwC and EY, and I’d say to the graduate trainees who were joining: “This isn’t about just getting the qualification and looking to see what’s out there, it’s about determining what interests you going forward.” It’s that old chestnut of “find a job you love and you don’t have to work another day in your life”.

Also, it’s not just about the numbers, it’s about the people too. It’s very important to balance technical ability regarding finance with that social awareness and situational awareness around you, and understand what’s going on.

What book/film/podcast would you recommend to anyone working in public finance?

An excellent book I’d recommend is Government Financial Resilience by Ileana Steccolini, Martin David Singh Jones and Iris Saliterer. It's an academic book that illustrates how government is resilient to change. While it was written about the era of austerity, it’s applicable to the peaks as well as the troughs. 

On a lighter note, a movie I’d suggest is The Accountant, an action-thriller starring Ben Affleck about an accountant who deals with more sinister goings on in society. Accountancy with a touch of James Bond.

What would you say to somebody thinking of becoming a CIPFA member?

There will always be a reliance upon the public sector, and there will always be a need for an accountant, so by merging the two your opportunities are endless.

Through peaks and troughs, you need finance specialists. It’s not just about the numbers though – the emphasis in our role is very much on understanding the numbers in the context of everything in the environment. With technology, the pure numbers can be addressed by programs and by data manipulation, but it’s the interpretation that people rely on professionals like us for.