Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

Devante Olojo, finance graduate, Southwark Council

Headshot of Devante Olojo

Devante Olojo joined Southwark Council as a finance graduate trainee in September 2020 after graduating from the University of Manchester, where he gained a first-class honours degree in International Business Finance and Economics. Beginning his career in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, Devante's first placement with the council was in a corporate area that focused on COVID-19.

His subsequent placement within the council’s adult social services provided experience of budget monitoring, interacting with a variety of stakeholders, and seeing the impact of the authority’s work on vulnerable adults and elderly people within Southwark. Having grown up in the same borough, Devante has welcomed the opportunity to make a difference to the community and is committed to pursuing a career in the public sector. He began his CIPFA qualifications shortly after joining the council as part of the graduate trainee programme.

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

During the third year of my university course, I took a year-long placement at Co-operatives UK [the central membership organisation for co-operative enterprises throughout the UK], and I thoroughly enjoyed how closely we worked with people in creating value in their community, particularly through setting up member-based co-operatives. After doing some research, I realised that local government – and particularly CIPFA – would give me the best technical accounting skills to be able to prosper in a career where I would be able to make a significant contribution to society, creating value and helping achieve fairer standards of living for everyone.

What do you enjoy most about working in the local government sector?

I enjoy working with compassionate people who care about making a change and being able to see the value we create. It’s particularly rewarding for me working in Southwark, where I grew up and was educated, seeing how everything relates to our work – it is very satisfying.

What have been the highlights or biggest successes of your career to date? Are there any stand-out, pivotal moments?

My biggest success is completing a Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) return during my first placement soon after I joined Southwark by liaising with different departments within the council. I am proud at how well I used that task to create relationships with different teams throughout the organisation.

How has being a CIPFA student member supported you in your current role?

CIPFA has supported me greatly. As it is an accountancy body that focuses exclusively on the public sector, the professional qualification is tailored to the sorts of roles and environment I’m working in, so this helps my ability to understand how the council works, especially in terms of our objectives and our relationships with our stakeholders. CIPFA is also always available to offer support and advice when it’s needed.

Why did you choose a CIPFA accounting qualification?

I wanted to work in accountancy, as I am an analytical individual who wanted to get into financial management. I decided to do so with CIPFA, as I was confident it would provide a pathway into public sector financial management.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing public finance professionals of the future?

The biggest challenge going forward is around cuts in funding and the growing funding gap for councils. This affects the make-up of council funding, which will put more pressure on residents and affect the ability of local authorities to provide key services.

What is your advice to people considering a CIPFA accounting qualification?

Go for it. If you are considering a CIPFA accounting qualification, you’re probably already committed to working in accounting, and I believe CIPFA is a great and unique qualification that is designed to make a difference and genuinely influence the lives of people for the better.

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

While Muhammad Yunus’ book Banker to the Poor is not directly about public finance, it is an interesting read for anyone interested in finance and how it can be used to create social value. It was recommended to me a few years ago, and I found the concept of microfinance interesting in how it can be used to tackle social issues around the world.