Jayne Owen, Finance and Resources Director at North Wales Housing and CIPFA President for 2022/23

Jayne has been Finance and Resources Director at North Wales Housing since 2019 and is CIPFA President for 2022/23. This is her first role in housing following working across local government, policing and combined authorities for most of her 30-year career in public sector finance.

Jayne Owen's CIPFA journey

Jayne Owen Finance and Resources Director at North Wales Housing

Jayne began her CIPFA journey as a student and has been a member and active CIPFA volunteer for over 20 years.

What led you to qualify with CIPFA and become a CIPFA member?

I was in local government, and I would say I came to the qualification quite late in my career. I started at Kirklees Council as an AAT trainee, and Kirklees used to offer a CIPFA trainee programme every year. I applied just before I was 30 and got accepted. My parents came from a social housing background, and they embedded in me the importance of education. With CIPFA itself, it’s really important because of that public sector ethos that comes with it and the focus on public financial management. I never envisaged myself going into the private sector – my heart has always been in the public sector, so it was the perfect qualification for me.

What are your priorities as CIPFA President for 2022/23?

Stronger together is the first one – and it’s not because I don't believe we are not ‘together’ as a public sector, but I think we will continue to be stronger together. We’ve faced such adversity with austerity and the pandemic, and now the cost of living crisis. I’ve witnessed it so many times – particularly when I was in Greater Manchester and the combined authority – how well the public sector can come together, so it’s more a continuation of something that we already do very, very well. That’s from a service delivery perspective, but also ‘stronger together’ from a CIPFA network perspective as well. It’s really important that we’ve got colleagues and networks we can work with who can support us through these really challenging times.

Social mobility. We’ve got a real recruitment problem within the public sector, and we’ve potentially got a whole set of talented people out there who have just never had hope or ambition because of where they were born, and it just seems totally and utterly unfair for them. For me, it’s not just about people from disadvantaged backgrounds getting a job. It’s about having a good job and a job with a career, which is what the accountancy profession can offer. I didn't come up through the university route, and here I am President of the national institute and Director of Finance, so it’s possible! You have a real level of empathy as well when you’ve come up through that route, and I want to be able to champion that.

Then there’s sustainability. Mike [Driver, 2021/22 President] and I spoke about continuation of themes. As President, you’ve got 12 months, which is not a long time to do anything, and sustainability is a definite follow-on from Mike, because as we know, it’s not something we can do on our own, so I want to continue Mike’s good work on sustainability and all the work that CIPFA are doing as well.

When did you first become attracted to a career in the public sector, particularly public finance?

My mum would tell you I wanted to be a bank manager from probably the age of five. I would always be the banker when we were playing Monopoly, and I would always be the cashier if we were playing shopkeepers. I did look into banking, and I had work experience at Barclays Bank, but I wasn’t over enamoured with it. Then the opportunity arose for an AAT traineeship at Kirklees Council, and I just really, really loved being in the council and all the variety that came with it. I loved the fact that we were there to support the residents and provide great service.

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

I was very proud to be part of the Greater Manchester devolved government mayoral function. I worked with the Home Office and the Treasury around what the accountancy policies needed to be as we were moving into this combined authority, and there was lot of work in terms of primary legislation and how governance would work. It was really interesting and exciting to be a part of that.

My first priority at North Wales Housing was to refinance our loan portfolio, reducing the number of funders, removing restrictive covenants, attracting funding to build new homes and reducing the cost of our interest payments. Coming from a local government background, this was a whole new level of treasury management and a huge learning curve.

What have been the greatest challenges, both during your career and within the public finance sector as a whole?

Austerity was a real challenge. The first time the government imposed a mid-year austerity Budget around 12 years ago was a shock to the system. Since then, it’s been really challenging. There has been lots of transformation too. Coming back to ‘stronger together’, public service reform has really come out of that austerity, where we’ve looked holistically at the challenges, and it has led to transformation, which has been amazing. But it’s not easy when you’re trying to balance tough budgets – at the end of the day, these are people’s lives we’re impacting on, whether they’re our service users or our staff. That’s the toughest part. You do go home and cry sometimes, because it can be heartbreaking!

What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the public sector?

It’s the people coming together and the camaraderie. The public service reform and transformation that has come out of the adversity we have faced has made us stronger – that’s probably the biggest thing. Also, it’s that I’ve been able to transfer my finance skills across a number of different sectors within the public sector – local government, then policing, then the devolved mayoral functions and now housing. That has been brilliant. People talk about portability with the CIPFA qualification, and I’ve assumed they’re talking public/private, but I’ve been able to span the public sector, so it really is portable in many ways.

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

It’s not ‘advice’ as such, but what I’ve taken from people is to just be true to yourself. You have to do the right thing, and sometimes the right thing is the hard thing to do, but you have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day.

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

As I said in my in various speeches at PF Live, I genuinely do not believe I would be the President and in a finance director role without the support of CIPFA. Back in my student days, a number of us started the National Student Forum, and I’m still great friends with those who were with me on that journey. Friendship has been an amazing part of being a CIPFA member. Also, the networks, the introductions and the experiences you get as a junior member of staff when you start training – you don’t get the level of access to senior professionals that you do without CIPFA’s support. There is always someone at the end of the phone as well if you need help, which is fantastic.

What advice would you give to people who are beginning their career in public finance?

Get involved – absolutely get involved with CIPFA! I spoke at the award ceremony at the student conference at PF Live, and it was fabulous to see the incoming and outgoing student presidents stood up there in front of a whole group of people presenting in such a confident way. I just thought you’re not going to get that level of experience early on in your career unless you get involved. You get so much back in terms of friendship and support, and it’s also a fantastic career opportunity. It’s something I look for when recruiting as well. I’ll be looking for that extra spark – what else have you done as well as your exams?

What would you say to somebody thinking of becoming a CIPFA member?

For me, with CIPFA we are breeding future finance leaders – that’s what we do. Most people can become an accountant – you can learn those technical skills. What we’re breeding are future leaders. We’re looking at strategy and the impact of decision making. We’re trained to be strategic decision makers, which is where I think we’ve got a unique selling point over other qualifications.

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

Firstly – and nothing to do with public finance – Dave Grohl’s The Storyteller. That just shows my rock chick background! That’s my favourite, but another one I am reading at the moment is How to Speak So People Really Listen by Paul McGee.