She joined Southwark Council and worked for a year in environment, then moved to Westminster Council to work in housing and then adults. Ruth was offered an opportunity to cover someone’s year sabbatical as a finance manager for adults in Ealing, leading her to take the leap into becoming a contractor. What followed was an opportunity to fulfil a year as head of finance for adults and community services in Barking and Dagenham.
I am currently working for the London Borough of Barnet in the commissioning directorate. This is really interesting as the transactional service for Barnet finance has been out-sourced, so my role is the client manager for the finance service. My team also manages the financial planning and strategy for the council as a whole.
Why did you choose to work in public services?
I had a lot of jobs after leaving college and would quickly get bored, give up and go on holidays and then change jobs. I was forwarded a job advert for the NHS and I remember going for the interview and thinking it was complex because they asked what an accrual and a prepayment was – now I wish interviews were that simple! I started working for the Hertfordshire NHS partnership trust and it was the first time my role had directly affected peoples’ lives, and I was hooked.
Why did you choose accountancy as a career?
My parents always thought I would be an accountant after I charged my brother interest when he borrowed my pocket money at payday loan rates! I left college and got a job as a conference organiser. I soon realised the people who worked in finance were on more money than me so I decided accountancy was for me so I started by taking AAT qualifications.
Why did you choose to become CIPFA certified?
I got a job in the NHS and I was offered two choices: to study CIPFA or CIMA. I chose CIPFA as a senior entrant at the grand of age of 25. When I looked at the syllabus it seemed more interesting as it had the public services reputation, as well as the leadership elements of the course.
How does the CIPFA qualification help you in your day-to-day tasks, as well as long-term?
As CIPFA is such a comprehensive qualification, you have a comfort in knowing that you have had some training or preparation for most situations. Also because your fellow CIPFA trainees are working in the public sector (even if in not exactly the same area) this provide a good support network, offering advice and experience about certain situations or processes.
Do you believe that your qualification created opportunities for you that would have otherwise been unavailable?
The CIPFA professional accounting qualification is, from my experience, very well-regarded. I am sure that it has opened doors to organisations that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to interview for if I wasn’t CIPFA-qualified.
What do you like most about your CIPFA membership?
I find the training sessions and network events really useful. CIPFA members are really supportive. I have over time had lots of support from more senior staff who I am sure are very busy doing their day jobs, but took the time to advise – and that has been a real help.
What advice would you give current students who are looking to pursue a career in public finance?
I would say enjoy your time studying and focus on getting the basics right. This will help you understand how to be an accountant and manager, and will hold you in good stead as you progress. Also, don’t try and plan your career too much just enjoy the opportunities. And remember to take time to laugh with your colleagues.