Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

John Bloomer

John BloomerJohn Bloomer has been Chief Finance Officer (Section 151 Officer) at Staffordshire Police since joining in March 2018 and is responsible for Finance and Commercial services, with a net revenue budget of more than £200 million.

He began his career at Staffordshire County Council in 2010, moving to work for Cornwall Council in 2015 as Strategic Finance Manager for Education, Health and Social Care. Following two years in this role, he returned to Staffordshire to spend a short spell as Deputy Director of Finance at North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust, before moving into the policing world. John has been a CIPFA member for 10 years.

Why did you choose the public over the private sector?

Coming off the back of the financial crisis in 2007/2008, there weren’t too many graduate opportunities around, so I applied for various roles in different areas. Fortunately, I secured a position at Staffordshire County Council, and it was there that I was able to study for a CIPFA qualification, which was great for me.

Over the last 10 years I have become a convert to the public sector and all the important work it does. For me, it’s been a holistic journey; having entered the public sector, I’ve discovered something important that I care about and have found my place in the world.

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

In a number of ways. Firstly, it provides you with a network of like-minded people and support, so that if you’re facing problems or difficulties you can find someone who’s already experienced something similar who can offer advice or guidance. That’s a real positive.

Throughout various stages of my career, CIPFA membership has benefited me in different ways. When you’re a trainee accountant there’s a lot of support around you - and getting access to people who are in more senior roles, just in terms of experiencing how they think, how they act, how they behave, is really important for your development.

Also, I think CIPFA is quite unique in the voice it gives to its members and the influence it has in government. It punches well above its weight in that respect. It’s a degree of influence you wouldn’t get anywhere else.

That network of peers also enables you to see a bigger picture of what’s possible within an organisation. Being able to talk through problems and being open and honest across organisations is something I don’t think you’d necessarily see within a private sector-focused association. With CIPFA members, the focus is very much on helping each other and supporting the whole, with a progressive approach to public finance. it’s quite refreshing to have that in a professional body.

What have been the greatest challenges you’ve faced, both during your career and within the public finance sector?

The greatest challenge I’ve faced is within my current role here at Staffordshire Police. It was my first Section 151 role on joining the organisation and, coupled with the learning curve that this entails, I had to address some underlying weaknesses in our finances. I was responsible for implementing financial recovery plans at the same time as restructuring the finance team – and this was while I was finding my way in a new job in a new sector. However, precisely because it was very challenging, I really enjoyed the experience. I’ve discovered throughout my career that I’m a person who enjoys meeting challenges and actively seek these out.

We successfully turned around our financial situation, the organisation is in a strong financial position now, and we have forged a cracking team that was nominated for the national Public Finance Awards 2020. We’ve brought in fresh blood and fresh ideas. We’ve also been building a longer-term vision of what that team’s about, introducing new training pathways – with CIPFA and AAT trainees in finance and CIPS trainees in the commercial team. It has been rewarding to see all of these changes come together, see our people grow, and really deliver on what we want to do, it’s all about adding value putting finance at the core of the decision-making process. We have finance business partners as well as commercial business partners that sit as part of the directorate, advising directorate heads on how to get the best return on investment, delivering on our fiduciary duty to the taxpayer

More recently, I have been supporting and leading the Force’s response  to Covid-19 across infrastructure and information; again a significant challenge but one that I have immensely enjoyed.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given or would give?

The best piece of advice I’ve been given is: ‘Jump in when you’ve got the opportunity – don’t be afraid.’ I’ve carried that through school and university, as well as throughout my career.

That’s the advice I would give someone at the start of their career. The beginning of your career is actually a great time to make mistakes, and mistakes are really important as they provide a fantastic learning opportunity.

Everybody’s expecting you to make mistakes as part of your learning journey when you’re a trainee, so it’s a good time to be brave. It may heighten the risk of getting it wrong, but the time to do it is at the start of your career when others expect you to make mistakes and are there to support your learning.