Meet Ian Thompson CPFA, Chief Finance Officer and Deputy Chief Executive, Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) for Thames Valley
Ian's career in public sector finance and accounting spans over 40 years. His wealth of experience and knowledge combined with his expertise in accounting has resulted in a fulfilling and rewarding career.
Today he leads a finance team in his role as Chief Finance Officer and Deputy Chief Executive for the elected Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for the Thames Valley.
Until recently, Ian was President of the Police Treasurers Society (PACCTS), which represents 43 local policing bodies in England and Wales. In his role as President, he worked closely with Home Office finance colleagues, plus two PCCs (with lead finance responsibilities), National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) finance leads and CIPFA.
How did you get started in your public sector career in finance and accounting?
Maths was always my favourite subject at school, so I naturally wanted a career in finance. Before leaving school, I was offered training jobs in banking as well as at the County Council. I chose the latter simply because a relative worked in the Council's finance department, she really enjoyed it and she told me how good the new accounting technician training was.
Consequently, I joined Buckinghamshire County Council as a trainee accounting technician in August 1978, just three weeks after my 16th birthday, and qualified with distinction three years later.
What do you enjoy about working in the public sector?
Work is interesting, varied and rewarding. For me, no two days are the same, although I appreciate that will not apply to everybody. At 16 I rather fell into the public sector by accident rather than it being an ideological choice. However, in later years it has definitely been a choice to stay in the public sector rather than pursuing alternative employment in the private sector.
How has a CIPFA qualification benefited your career?
I wanted to take my CIPFA examinations straight away but, at that time, the council had a graduate only policy in place. I was finally allowed to start studying for CIPFA in 1986 and qualified in 1989. I will always be grateful to John Lunn for backing my cause. Consequently, I've been able to enjoy a very fulfilling, varied and rewarding career with just two employers – Buckinghamshire County Council and the Thames Valley Police Authority.
I've now worked in the policing sector for over 25 years, and being able to call on peers through the CIPFA Police Finance Advisory Network has been invaluable at times. More recently, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APPC), NPCC and PACCTS have worked with CIPFA to develop and implement its award-winning Achieving Financial Excellence in Policing programme. This programme is now delivering real benefits for individuals and local policing bodies.
Although the current CIPFA syllabus is obviously very different to the one I studied over 30 years ago, it still prepares newly qualified accountants for the various challenges they will face in their working lives. Local authorities, for example, are now more business orientated and they need accountants with business acumen, commercial skills, risk management and a good awareness of corporate governance. At a more senior level, good interpersonal skills are almost as important as the technical ones to be able to work effectively with colleagues in senior management teams as well as elected individuals.
What challenges do you see in your sector today?
Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic the UK and global economies are likely to experience one of the biggest recessions in history.
In the police service, the UK Prime Minister has announced funding for an extra 20,000 police officers by March 2023 and, as a service, we are already well placed to deliver the first 6,000 by March 2021. But we have lots of other funding pressures (such as pay, pensions, price rises, new technology, loss of income from council tax etc) that need adequate government funding to ensure that front-line services are not adversely affected.
What piece of advice would you give a new CIPFA graduate?
It's really important to take all the learning opportunities that are offered to you. Also explore different roles and jobs throughout your career as you will learn new skills, mix with people from different backgrounds to your own, build on experience gained and broaden your knowledge base. This will have a huge personal and professional value to you.
Another opportunity to take advantage of is to volunteer for a national or regional role. CIPFA, for example, is often seeking volunteers for its UK regional panels. While volunteering can be hard work at times, you will gain a huge amount of experience as well as peer-to-peer networking, and it is often extremely rewarding.