Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

Paul Dossett

Paul DossettPaul Dossett is a Partner and Head of Public Sector Assurance, London and the South East at Grant Thornton UK LLP.

Paul is a CIPFA qualified accountant who has worked on local government and NHS audit, assurance and advisory projects for over 30 years. Today he chairs Grant Thornton’s Local Government Board.

Paul’s enthusiasm for public sector accounting and finance began with an interest in policy which stemmed from reading history and politics at university. After securing his first graduate post at the Audit Commission he never looked back. 

His wide range of experience includes the audit of 10 London boroughs, unitary authorities, and metropolitan and county councils, as well as the audit of major teaching hospitals such as Guys and St Thomas’s and St Georges’. In addition, he provides assurance services to a number of London Boroughs, including for housing benefits. Other assurance work includes services to the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in respect of Brexit preparation grants and services to universities and businesses in relation to the Innovate UK SCHEME. Paul also provides advisory services to county councils, London boroughs and unitary authorities.

What attracted you to a career in public sector finance and accounting?

When I was younger, I very much had a stereotypical view of accounting and my passion lay in history and politics.  In fact, it was the career counselor at university who planted the seed of an idea of accountancy as a profession, and he encouraged me to attend open evenings at accounting firms. From this introduction to accounting I secured my first role at the Audit Commission where I began to see the strong link between policy, which I’d always been interested in, and public finance.

I thoroughly encourage people to take a closer look at a career within the public sector. There is a huge variety of work in public sector finance and accounting which is not repetitive – every day you learn something new and have fresh challenges landing at your doorstep. For me, it is these challenges which reinforce the enjoyment of my work. Jobs where you learn things everyday are the most rewarding. 

Plus, public sector remains one of the few sectors where peer to peer networking, learning and collaboration is facilitated and openly encouraged. Many private sector industries are ultimately constrained by the fact that they are in competition with each other. The public sector provides a fantastic platform to learn from your peer network.  

Why did you decide to complete a CIPFA qualification?

At the Audit Commission I was required to complete a CIPFA qualification as part of my continuing professional development. Because this involved a year in industry as part of the qualification by the time the exams came round, I was raring to go. 

Looking back, the final assessment for this qualification proved to be a pivotal moment in my career too, although I did not see this at the time. The assessment involved an 8,000-word project followed by a 10 minute presentation to a panel.  Whilst I was nervous at the time, it was this presentation which gave me the confidence to answer challenging questions in public.

With the CIPFA qualification under my belt and exams completed, I was soon promoted to managerial level within the Audit Commission which enabled me to focus on strategy and my career took off. Ultimately, I found that a job will help your study, and study will help your job.

Why do you recommend a CIPFA qualification?

Now is a great time to be working in public sector finance and accounting, and if you want to work in this sector then why would you want to undertake something other than a CIPFA qualification? 

There are very few jobs within the accounting profession as a whole that you cannot do with a CIPFA qualification. It opens many doors to a life-long career. For instance, I still meet from time to time with a group of people who completed the CIPFA exams with me nearly 30 years ago. Today some of these people work in the health service, some in local government roles and some are running their own companies. Wherever you begin your career, with a CIPFA qualification there will always be a wide variety of roles and employment for you to explore.

It’s incredibly important to read our trade magazines for example, Public Finance magazine, Health Service Journal and Local Government Chronicle. These are hugely important as they facilitate learning, professional development and the ability to keep up to date on what is happening in your sector.