Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

Gareth Davies FCPFA, Comptroller & Auditor General, UK National Audit Office

Gareth DaviesIn 2019 the UK's Prime Minister and the chair of the Public Accounts Committee selected Gareth Davies to become the next head of the National Audit Office (NAO). Known for his strategic vision and strong track record of engaging and influencing, Gareth took over from Sir Amyas Morse in June 2019 and is now leading the NAO in helping the UK Parliament scrutinise how well government spends public money.

Gareth, a Chartered Public Finance Accountant and CIPFA Fellow, was previously a partner and Global and UK Head of Public Services for the global audit, accounting and consulting firm Mazars. Prior to joining Mazars, Gareth worked at the Audit Commission where he held several senior roles, including Managing Director of the Audit Practice.

Alongside his CIPFA membership, Gareth is also a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).

Why did you embark on a CIPFA qualification at the start of your career?

After leaving university I joined the Audit Commission, where I was given the change to go on a graduate training programme with CIPFA. It was an excellent opportunity for me, partly because the qualification allowed me to combine my degree in maths with my personal interest in politics and public service.

Following graduation, my CIPFA qualification and membership opened many doors for me as I was working in a national organisation and I was able to move around the UK, working in a variety of roles with many opportunities. I was with the Audit Commission for 25 years and I certainly did not lack challenge during that time.

My CIPFA training also showed me that a good quality public service is a fundamental part of a good society, and the successful management of public money underpins this.

During your career in public finance, who has inspired you?

I have learned from a huge number of people and received good guidance over the years. From line managers to experts in a team or project, many people have shared their experiences and expertise.

My CIPFA qualification also included a project at the final stage. It had a practical, hands-on experience focus rather than academic. Working on this practical element exposed me to people who were willing to share their knowledge, network and help me build my own connections in public finance. So, I wouldn't single out one person as being inspirational – rather I would encourage new graduates to seize the change to work with experts in teams or projects to help you thrive in your career.

What advice would you give a new CIPFA graduate?

Don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. After qualifying do not wait until you feel on top of your role before you start to look for your next challenge. In order to thrive in your career, it's important to put yourself in new roles and experiences even when they are outside your comfort zone. You will learn from them.

The public sector is full of opportunities and new challenges for CIPFA-qualified finance and accounting graduates. It's also an environment that encourages flexible and inclusive working along with continual learning.

In this day and age, developing resilience is both useful and necessary. People are having to grapple with big challenges in the public sector. Every public finance job, for example, is being impacted by technology. There is also the question of value for money regarding investment in technology for the public sector, and the implications this brings. Being able to adapt to change is necessary.

This is true at many stages of your personal life and career. Sometimes in your career things happen that are indeed unexpected, out of your control, and that you do not want. Do not ignore these experiences or bury them away. Instead, use them to harness your confidence and develop resilience, so that you can build the next stage of your career. Treat unexpected turns as an opportunity to launch into something different.

Today we need people entering a career in public sector finance with strong communication skills as much as technical knowledge. We also need effective leaders who can gain the confidence of teams to achieve great things.

Recommended read

A great recent read has to be The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs Private Sector Myths by Mariana Mazzucato. It is an inspirational book about the public sector being far more able to innovate and develop entrepreneurial solutions than many people realise and recognise. It is a good antidote to traditional views of the public sector being stagnant.