Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

Meet the CIPFA members

CIPFA members come from all walks of life and have their own stories to tell. Below, we talk to a cross-section of our members about why they joined CIPFA, their careers and interests.

If you want to be share your experiences as a CIPFA member with us, please contact the editorial team on editorial@cipfa.org

Ebony Hughes

Ebony Hughes - Director at Impower Consulting


Ebony Hughes is a director at Impower Consulting, which is dedicated to local public services. Ebony has worked at IMPOWER for nearly a decade, having previously been with PwC for six and a half years, where she undertook her CIPFA training as part of PwC’s graduate scheme. She became CIPFA qualified in 2007.

Why did you choose to train with CIPFA?

When I finished my Masters degree and was looking for the right graduate scheme, I was really keen to do something in the public or not-for-profit sector. If I am honest, I didn’t fully realise I was going to train to become an accountant, but I did like the idea of getting a qualification and a skills basis to help me in an advisory role in the public sector. I could choose between doing a qualification with another accounting body or a CIPFA qualification, and to me CIPFA sounded a lot more interesting and more aligned with the reasons why I was applying to do the job I wanted to do.

What have been the highlights/biggest successes of your career so far?

I've done some work that I’ve really enjoyed in terms of children's services, reframing how it is delivered to strengthen early intervention and prevention to support the improvement of outcomes for local families. Outside of the day job, I was also a trustee for five years at a children's charity in Caldecott that provided residential and foster care to children. I really enjoyed the opportunity to bring a lot of the skills from my professional financial background as well as an understanding of children's services and commissioning. It was a highlight because I felt like I had supported them to shift their focus to the outcomes they were achieving; taking a value for money approach rather than a perspective where minimising cost is the main factor.

Working with clients, it's been great to see the journey people take - from initially seeing something as a challenge or a roadblock through to creating a vision, energising people around a goal and working with them to get to a point where that is delivered. That's a consistent theme from my work over the past decade, and it's rewarding every time. Facilitating a programme of change and being able to step away knowing that the outcomes will be delivered is a great feeling of success.

What's been the greatest challenge?

Right now, it’s a fascinating time to be working in local government. There's so much positivity about the opportunities for reform in order to bounce forward better and stronger, but it’s going to need a different approach and mind-set than what we've been using before. We need to think of our role as local system influencers which enables the wider local recovery and what it will mean for our communities. However, doing all of this against an alarming financial impact for local authorities is unlike anything we've ever seen before. It's exciting, but very daunting at the same time. The variety of the public sector is one of its strengths, but it also makes it ten times harder.

Aside from the current crisis, something I’ve consistently worked on is brokering the relationship between finance as an enabling function and the services they're supporting. Services needto not narrow-frame the benefits they can get from working closely with finance colleagues, and these colleagues also need to make sure they are actively sharing their insight and intelligence to help and support services make decisions. 

What's your typical working day like?

At the moment I work from 7am - 10am, I do childcare from 10am - 1pm, then I work 1pm - 4pm. After that I do more childcare, and then work after they've gone to bed! 

My typical working day is between 8am and 5pm and includes lots of meetings - at the moment my life is lived via Zoom and Microsoft Teams! I'm currently working with two clients; one is running a homelessness project and the other is more of a financial strategy piece. I'm also having meetings with my internal teams to see how they're getting on.

When did you first become interested in a career in public finance?

I always thought I wanted to work in international development, and it was only when I started working with local government clients that I realised how interesting and exciting the sector could be - and now I’m a total local government geek! I think that the sector could do more to raise the profile of the exciting and impactful work that it does. Working with local government provides an opportunity to really make a difference and achieve a positive impact for people from all walks of life. If you turn on the news in the morning, there’s always something happening in the public sector that's impacting people's lives.

If you didn’t work in public finance, what kind of job would you be doing?

I always wanted to work in international development, so I may have followed that route had I not found my love of local government! I'd love to be a wildlife documentary maker, but I'm not sure I have it in me to be the next David Attenborough!

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

One of my director colleagues who used to be my performance manager was a great coach to me. He told me that it’s important to know that you don't need to know everything. Having that permission to not feel like you need to know everything is quite liberating. It reduces the pressure you may put on yourself, and it makes you more open and receptive to listening which is really valuable. It allows you to change the mind-set with which you enter a conversation, because you're not focused on proving you're the expert.

If you were given one million pounds, how would you spend it? 

I'd love to be able to take the family on some travels, and just go off and explore the world. I would pay the mortgage off and disappear around the world for a good year on a big adventure. I'd like to start in Mexico and work my way down.

If you were Chancellor for the day, what would be the first change you would make? 

I'd have a proper look at how they can support local government financially going forward. Right now, it's got to be done!

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

Nothing related to public finance! I'd recommend having something that's a complete escape, because it would be far too stressful to be thinking about public finance all the time! As pure escapism, I've been watching New Amsterdam on Amazon Prime which is based in a public hospital in New York and there are always financial and budgeting challenges which they always seem to find a way to overcome. I don’t agree with their stereotypical portrayal of finance staff!

Who would be your ultimate dinner party guests? 

Right now, my family! I'd just love to have all my family and friends over - I don't care about celebrities right now. I'd love to get the family around the table for a big dinner and a celebration. 

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

Do it, of course! I'd also encourage them to appreciate not just the grounding when it comes to public finance, but also the broader skills, knowledge, access to a fantastic network and the feeling of identity and belonging the membership gives you. You are part of a community as a result, which is a really nice thing to have - not just to fall back on, but draw upon as you progress.


Carolyn Williamson

Carolyn Williamson - CIPFA President for 2019/20


Carolyn is the Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Corporate Resources for Hampshire County Council. She also works as the Chief Financial Officer for Hampshire County Council and the Hampshire Pension Fund, and is responsible for Hampshire County Council’s IT service, leading on digital strategy implementation for the council. Carolyn became CIPFA president for the year 2019/20 and has been CIPFA qualified since 1991.

Why did you choose to train with CIPFA/become a CIPFA member?

It was while working for Grampian Health Board in the finance team. At that time the health sector exclusively trained CIPFA accountants and therefore the opportunity to train was CIPFA only and it was through directed private study, 60% home study with 40% classroom attention.

What have been the highlights/biggest successes of your career so far?

For me, up to this point, there are three things that stand out. Firstly, there was the 1996 local government reorganisation across Scotland. This was a massive change programme, encompassing all our elections, re-applying for jobs and a major structural change of local government from two-tier to unitary across the country.

Then, in 2006, came another massive change programme with the Southampton City Council/Capita Partnership which outsourced the corporate centre of Southampton City Council, and secured the necessary IT investment to support a new operating model. Negotiating a new contract with a private sector partner was a new and challenging experience for me, coupled with the TUPE transfer of most of my staff to Capita.

Finally, the Hampshire County Council shared services partnership in 2014. The partnership centred around providing a self-service operating model and the TUPE transfer of all staff involved in HR and finance. The financial arrangement is a cost sharing model which ensures open and transparent partnership behaviour, and since 2014 the partnership has since expanded to include Oxfordshire & three London boroughs, supporting 120,000 staff across all partner organisations. This is the largest arrangement of its kind in the public sector.

What’s been the greatest challenge?

Again, I’ll choose three. In 2001, I was brought in as Inverclyde Council’s new Director of Finance to turn the finance service around. My role was not just about ensuring sound financial controls and governance – my team was lacking confidence and I needed to re-engage them. The end of the first year saw us achieve an unqualified external audit report, which was the accolade the team needed to confirm they were of the expected high standard of a finance service. I learned such a lot about my capability, strength and resilience during this period. 

Fast forward to 2010, and the next ten years of austerity. ‘Relentless’ is the word which comes to mind, as there has been a never-ending focus on driving down net revenue cost in response to government funding cuts – whether that is reducing expenditure or increasing income. 

Which brings me to 2020. COVID-19 is an unexpected crisis on top of already very fragile finances across local government – all of which is undoubtedly a potential recipe for disaster. The initial COVID-19 period was a swift move into full on response mode; for me that included a raft of HR and IT policy issues, including home working, furloughing, pausing sensitive casework and a significant number of financial decisions I needed to take due to a halt to the political decision-making framework, while we awaited government changes to allow virtual meetings. 

What’s your typical working day like? 

My typical working day is spent predominantly in the office in Winchester or in London in meetings and working on email communications and reviewing reports. Focus ranges from providing strategic recommendations to councillors and/or CX and corporate management team to leading and driving performance across the corporate resources team, including overseeing major developments for Hampshire County Council and across shared services partners and also the Hampshire Pension Fund. 

During COVID-19, working at home, all of the above continues plus contributing as part of the Emergency Planning Gold Command in determining our on-going response and recovery which ranges from attending virtual meetings to directing changes across corporate resources to taking decisions regarding HR and IT policy and financial decisions.

When did you first become interested in a career in public finance?

I knew I wanted to work in finance or banking; something with numbers. As I was completing my accountancy qualification at college I was applying for jobs and I was offered a finance officer role in the NHS, with the Grampian Health Board. Initially I didn’t choose the public sector over the private sector – my first job just happened to be in the public sector. 

But throughout my career, whenever I have had opportunities to consider a move to the private sector, I’ve realised that is not the direction I want to take. I prefer the ‘public benefit’ aspect of working in the public sector. Throughout my career I have had significant job satisfaction knowing I am supporting and enabling colleagues delivering front-line services to the community and in particular to vulnerable individuals. For me, that is really rewarding.

If you didn’t work in public finance, what kind of job would you be doing?

Given my time back I think I would have loved being a lawyer. I deal in facts and I love a strong evidence-based argument; I can usually provide a plausible argument to defend a position.

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

To always ‘do the right thing and stand firm’. Having left the health sector upon qualifying with CIPFA and moving to my first local government role as head of accountancy, my boss, the then assistant director of finance, gave me this advice – and I still live by it. 

If you were given one million pounds, how would you spend it? 

I’d buy a beautiful chateau in the South of France. It would be quite a large building needing some renovation with period features including at least on spire tower, and with a large beautiful garden. I would spend time and money developing it for use as a high-quality venue for weddings and special occasions where large parties arrive to be accommodated and entertained in luxury surroundings. 

I would enjoy using my organizational and planning and delivery skills, along with menu planning and hosting, I do enjoy cooking but I think I would leave that aspect to the professionals! This would allow me to have some ‘full on busy time’ coupled with ‘down time’ and all hopefully in excellent weather. 

If you were Chancellor for the day, what would be the first change you would make? 

Local government reorganisation to achieve efficient and effective single-tier organisations able to work at large scale, while staying close to the communities they are there to serve. It is just such an obvious step to take when you look at it from inside local government, but it never gets any central government traction for perhaps obvious reasons. 

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

I recommend the 19 May CIPFA webinar 'Local government in the age of COVID-19: how to deal with short term cash crises'. Not because I am one of the three panelists, but because it is acutely relevant to the here and now and will be part of a pivotal moment between local and central government regarding funding the financial consequences of COVID-19.

Who would be your ultimate dinner party guests? 

Churchill – I love history and in particular learning about the war. I would like to hear from Churchill about why he didn’t bow out after World War 2 and celebrating his strong leadership role in our victory. Also having been through the war I would be interested in his thoughts around our current COVID-19 crisis and how ‘lockdown Britain’ compares to ‘wartime Britain’. 

Harry Potter – my now young adults grew up with JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series; we have all the books and I saw all of the films at the cinema as they came out. He could perhaps use his magic wand to whisk us all to Hogwarts Great Hall for dinner – imagine a table of food and drink that never runs out!

Our Queen – I am a great fan of ‘The Crown’ and a strong supporter of the UK having a Royal Family. I would like to hear our Queen’s thoughts, after decades on the throne, about the changes she has seen throughout that period, for good and bad, what would she have liked to see play out differently and if she has given any thought to ‘succession planning’. 

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

Absolutely go for it! It is hard work to become qualified, but it shouldn’t be easy if it is to be valued as a qualification. You will never regret the decision.


Mark Williams

Mark Williams


Mark has previously worked with PA Consulting and Deloitte, where roles included coordinating PA’s property and infrastructure work, setting up and leading Deloitte’s Government Finance and Accounting team, public service audit, leading projects across public services and delivering learning and development training. Mark has been a CIPFA member under bylaw 5 since 2012 and is a member of the CIPFA Government Board and CIPFA South East Regional Council.

Mark is currently looking for new permanent or associate roles. He is a part time associate on the Mayor of London’s energy efficiency programmes and with CIPFA on supporting best value for money PFI Exits – the subject of a recent NAO report.

Why did you choose to train with CIPFA?

I trained from 1992-1995 with Robson Rhodes, who are now part of Grant Thornton. As a medium-sized firm, I did all sorts of audit work and other finance work, including quite a lot of private sector work. I increasingly got involved in Audit Commission as well as housing association audits. From there, I joined Deloitte and carried out a lot of NHS Audit Commission audit plus NAO audit. Given the complexity of those sectors, CIPFA was very relevant to me. I joined the CIPFA Government Board in 2009 and the obvious next step was to become a CIPFA member.

What have been the highlights/biggest successes of your career so far?

We've done some great work as well as learning and development around business cases, PPPs, PFIs and so forth, including piloting the World Bank public/private partnership training in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda in 2016. That was special in terms of visiting these countries, piloting a high-profile training programme, but also just seeing how important and rewarding it was for the 60 or so attendees of that training. We were there 10 days or so, and they were genuinely interested not just in partnerships but also the wider public finance management experience from the UK. Making Partner with Deloitte was also a great milestone for me.

What’s been the greatest challenge?

The ongoing siloed working and the lack of corporate memory. Because I’ve been working cross sector I am aware of the ongoing siloed working. I tend to try to help by flagging ‘You did this 10+ years ago? These were the lessons learnt.' or 'Did you realise that a different department or local authority are doing something similar?' It can be quite frustrating. Pace can also be an issue, because you have to pedal really hard to get projects across the line, and it never quite gets to the top of the agenda. It seems to be more difficult than perhaps it should be. 

What’s your typical working day like?

It tends to be a lot of plates spinning, because I tend to have a lot of projects running at any one time. Working for a consultancy, there is a lot of delivery which I very much enjoy. There's also quite a lot of internal management and bidding. I tended to spend time out of the office with clients, and many of those were in Whitehall which meant dashing from one government department to another. I also did quite a bit of work for MOD, so some days involved travelling to sites in the middle of nowhere for meetings and adapting to how different departments function. 

When did you first become interested in a career in public finance?

I've been very fortunate to be involved in lots of public sector audits, both the financial audit but also value for money auditing. There was a time in early 2000’s where I was audit director for quite a few of the London teaching hospitals and that was absolutely fascinating work in terms of the external financial audit and also the value for money audit. The range of issues you have to worry about is so much more involved. An emergency you might have in the private sector pales into insignificance compared to a real emergency you might have in a hospital. It’s just more rewarding.

If you didn’t work in public finance, what kind of job would you be doing?

As I do a lot of public/private partnership work, it could be that I was working for one of the outsourcers or contractors, or one of the investors. I do a lot of learning and development, so it could be that I was more full time on training people in terms of business cases, PPPs or mentoring, as I have done for the last four years on Cabinet Office/IPA’s Project Leadership Programme. I draw the public finance definition very broadly, so I suspect I would be there in the mix somewhere! 

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

Probably something about going on HM Treasury's Better Business Case training, because that is a fantastic insight into how decision making at officer civil service level should be made. Also, most things in public services have been done before, so you just need to look outwards, beyond your silo and organisation boundary, to see what's been done before and what you might learn from it. It’s interesting to do that horizon scanning. CIPFA has such a wealth of knowledge, which is why I’m excited to be involved with them at various levels. 

If you were given one million pounds, how would you spend it?

I would spend it on upskilling and training people properly, as I believe the payback is disproportionate to the investment. The payback of getting the right people managing government's most difficult projects in the right way is significantly. 

If you were chancellor for the day, what would be the first change you would make?

I would push on in carrying out property and infrastructure projects. I genuinely do think that's the way to move the dial on economic growth, both in rebalancing the North and South and dealing with net zero. I'd do it in a more transparent, less siloed approach. If some things are blatantly a good thing to do, I’d try to do them at pace - there are things which seem so obvious to do and yet still seem to take a huge amount of time to get through approvals. I would look more to local government because, given their local delivery focus and response to austerity measures, local government have had to be far more nimble in terms of making things happen. 

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

The Mayor's energy programmes work with a Dutch “not for profit” organisation called Energiesprong and they have a video about what they do to retrofit homes to net zero. What they get across in a three minute video is so much more effective than what I can probably present in hours. It’s quite Monty Python-esque as well.

Who would be your ultimate dinner party guests?

In the current environment, it would be nice to have my extended family for dinner! 

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

It is a fantastic foundation, but don't just do the qualification and then reappear when you become CFO. You get out of CIPFA what you put into it, so remain involved throughout. We're now in a world where having just the one professional alignment is not enough, so it is useful to recognise that you're going to have to work collaboratively with all sorts of other professions, and it's useful to dip in and out of those other professions and have some sort of secondary alignment.

You also need soft skills; you can be the greatest technical accountant in the world, but it's no use if you can't actually communicate. I was mentoring for the Cabinet Office/IPA Project Leadership Programme, which includes modules on subjects such as mindfulness. I probably gained as much from mentoring as the people I mentored, in terms of speaking to a wide range of people from different backgrounds. There's a real skill around communicating complex finance and business cases to non-specialists, so it’s useful to speak to people who approach it from different backgrounds.


Mark Payne

Mark Payne - Business Team Development Leader


Mark works as a Business Development team leader for Dorset Council. He is a member of the Local Taxation editorial board as part of CIPFA's TISonline information service, and has been a member since 2016.

Why did you choose to train with CIPFA?

I had worked in the Revenues and Benefits area for a number of years and felt that the qualification would broaden my knowledge and develop my role and the contribution I could make to the organization. I believe it has done that and given me some great skills and confidence in undertaking my role within Dorset Council.

What have been the highlights/biggest successes of your career so far?

Last year we formed Dorset Council from six legacy councils. I was seconded into the position of programme accountant. We were given around a year to bring the six legacy councils together and become “safe and legal”.  We achieved this on 1 April 2019 which was a fantastic achievement.

Outside of work I, until very recently, volunteered for Dorset Police as an independent custody visitor. As part of a group of visitors, we managed to get the government to change the law around the issue of sanitary products for female detainees. Whilst quite a basic need, to be able to make a difference and get the law changed was very rewarding.

What’s been the greatest challenge?

Passing my CIPFA examinations was a huge challenge for me. I undertook the qualification via distance learning and wasn’t in a traditional accounting role when I started. I was particularly pleased that in my final exam I achieved my highest score.

What’s your typical working day like?

I am writing this during lockdown, so the last few weeks have been very different!  However beforehand I would travel to the office - I am lucky to live in a great part of the world so I have a six mile cycle commute to the office, which has great facilities. There are usually a few regular jobs to check and then it varies. My role covers quite a few different elements which means sometimes it could be something quite technical like completing the NNDR3 form or  something more vocational like assessing one of my NVQ candidates work. I don’t tend to have too many meetings most days so it will mainly be heads down at the desk. At the end of the day it’s a six mile cycle home and then walk the dog.

When did you first become interested in a career in public finance?

I was always a numbers person and got my highest GCSE results in Maths and Business Studies. When I did my BTEC in business and finance I undertook a project about the Community Charge.  It really interested me and my first role in the council was dealing with the community charge; so they were really impressed how well I had prepared for the interview with my knowledge.  After joining the local authority on a temporary contract I realised that I really believed in the public sector, work it does and in my own way could make a difference, so I stayed.  

If you didn’t work in public finance, what kind of job would you be doing?

I would have joined the Army. I attended a military school from aged 11 to 18 so that is where many of my friends ended up.

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

One of the combined cadet force officers at school told me “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail”. It was good advice during my studying and in my day to day role.

If you were given one million pounds, how would you spend it? 

Carefully!

If you were Chancellor for the day, what would be the first change you would make? 

I would invest more in the NHS and local government. 

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

Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister. I watched it when I was studying to learn about the minister/mandarin relationships. Much of it is so relevant, even today! 

Who would be your ultimate dinner party guests? 

Simon Reeve, Monty Don, Kate Aidie and Tom Hanks 

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

Do it. CIPFA is a great qualification and has provided invaluable support in being able to undertake my role. It is more than just an accountancy qualification and will give you the confidence and skills to face many challenges that life presents.


Richard Harvey

Richard Harvey - retired NHS manager, lecturer, accountant, IT consultant and regulator


Richard has previously worked as an NHS manager, local government accountant, lecturer, IT consultant and government regulator. He is now retired and is currently the chairman of a small software company in Manchester. He works with a number of charities and is a trustee of Safe and Free, who help victims of human trafficking. He has been a member of CIPFA for over 50 years. 

Why did you choose to become a CIPFA member?

I didn't want to be a chartered accountant and spend my life stopping rich people paying tax, and I didn't particularly want to work for companies that help raise more money for their directors. I wanted to do something which was worthwhile and interesting. Local government and health has a great variety of questions to tackle, issues to deal with and things to sort out. 

What have been the highlights/biggest successes of your career so far?

I think the biggest success was being honorary treasurer of a Building Preservation Trust. We raised £12 million and we used it to rescue buildings in Manchester. The council wanted to pull it all down, but these were very historic and characterful buildings. We spent that money in rescuing two iconic buildings, as a result of which developers moved in and rescued some of the other buildings. To our amazement, last year one of the restaurants in there received a Michelin star! When we were working there, no-one was living there, no businesses were there and it was a bit dangerous, so it has totally transformed a suburb.

What’s been the greatest challenge?

Keeping up to date with IT! When I started it was all very primitive compared to today's standards. I spent some time working in IT, but I find it hard now to keep up to date with developments, partly because things are moving so quickly. It's a wonderful time to be alive - we have an IT revolution, with developments such as Artificial Intelligence changing the way IT works. It's exciting but you have to keep up to date. 

What’s your typical working day like?

Working for the regional health authority, I would be working with 20 trusts across the region who were having problems with IT systems, so it was a very much a coordinating activity travelling across the country. These days, I go to a couple of meetings a week for my company as chairman, and I'm a trustee of another charity. 


When did you first become interested in a career in public finance?

It must have been when i was at school. When I lectured in accountancy, one of my mantras was that the job of the accountant is to impose order on chaos, because left to their own devices people will not record things properly and lose documents. The accountant needs to be a dragon to get the data input correct, and they are in charge of marshaling that information. People think accountancy is all about numbers, when really it is about designing and enforcing procedures so that all the numbers are correct. Without that, the numbers don't mean anything.

If you didn’t work in public finance, what kind of job would you be doing?

I have no idea! I suppose I might have gone into the motor industry as an accountant, because i like cars - I enjoy how they're made and how they perform. I grew up in Birmingham, where you had the Rover and Austin factories.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given or been given? And by who?

I always say that you don't know whats round the corner - expect the unexpected. You can't assume that tomorrow will be like today, as we can see with what is happening at the moment. Also, when you are preparing a spreadsheet, don't assume the numbers are correct unless you have checked it! 

If you were given one million pounds, how would you spend it?

Some of the money I would give to my current charity Safe and Free, which tries to rescue young men and women being trafficked into prostitution. Some of it I would use to dabble in hedge funds investments, because you know at the end of the day whether you've made a profit or loss. I suppose I would give some money to the croquet club, and I would buy a boat!



If you were Chancellor for the day, what would be the first change you would make?

I would abolish universal credit and introduce a better system. As a regulator, I was working on pathway, which was a predecessor of universal credit. They would pay weekly rather than monthly, and would pay rent directly to the landlord rather than to the tenant to pay to the landlord. The government theory is that people learn to manage their money, whereas many people aren't very good at managing money, and this won't be improved by giving them a lump sum. I would tackle those issues, because there are millions of people who are struggling because universal credit is not working properly. 

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

I don't know! I'm not sure anything I've read or watched has any other meaning rather than pleasing me! I enjoy Last Tango in Halifax, because it makes my life feel nice and simple. 

Who would be your ultimate dinner party guests?

I would invite the chancellor, so can have an interesting discussion about my ideas!

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

You can use it to do all sorts of things. Don't feel that you are restricted to health or government, or even accountancy. Having qualified as an accountant, I've spent my whole life avoiding being an accountant! The CIPFA qualification gives you the ability to do all sorts of things, and you should recognise that and not think that it places you into a channel where you can only be a local accountant. When you qualify you are joining a family, and there are students, members and regional groups that you can get involved with, so you are not on your own. You are part of a much wider network, and that's very helpful in advancing your career and providing contacts, helping you to progress. 


Naomi Jackson

Naomi Jackson - Commercial Finance Manager at Campus Living Villages


Naomi is the Commercial Finance Manager at Campus Living Villages. She is a member of the CIPFA North West Council and was previously President of the North West CIPFA Student Network. She has been volunteering with CIPFA since 2015 and has been a member since 2018.

Why did you choose to become a CIPFA member?

My first job in the public sector was in a Graduate Finance Manager Trainee role, and studying with CIPFA was a requirement of the post.

What have been the highlights/biggest successes of your career so far?

During my time at Greater Manchester Combined Authority, I really enjoyed working on investment projects across Greater Manchester that have a positive economic impact for the region.

What’s been the greatest challenge?

There are plenty! Perhaps working across the Adult, Children, and Families directorate at Manchester City Council during austerity measures.

What’s your typical working day like?

It depends which day you catch me on. Most often I’m working on budget monitoring, budget setting, forecasting, reconciliations, portfolio developments, process improvement, trend analysis, compliance, loan agreements, and management reports; the list is endless!

When did you first become interested in a career in public finance?

I’m really interested in macroeconomics so whilst I was studying for my Masters I put forward two dissertation topics; “UK Taxation system and the Impact on Government Revenue and Economic Growth – does taxation follow the Extreme Value Theorem?” and “The Composition and Changes in Government Expenditure and Impact on the Bond Market: A study of the UK and other Comparable Countries across 50 years.” The rest is history.

If you didn’t work in public finance, what kind of job would you be doing?

As a child, I wanted to be Carol Vorderman so that I could be in charge of the numbers on Countdown. Now, I think I’d re-train as a police officer.

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

“Just because they laugh at you, doesn’t mean you are wrong.” – A past teacher on having confidence in giving an answer that is different from the majority.

“You’re the next Naomi Jackson” – My Dad on never needing to be anyone else but myself.

If you were given one million pounds, how would you spend it?

Investment and gambling – or are they the same thing? Either way, I’d try to maximize the return so that I could use it to fund charitable projects mainly.

If you were Chancellor for the day, what would be the first change you would make?

I’m not sure! Given that I’m currently working for a student accommodation provider, I think I’d have to play around with Education budgets first.

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

The films I would recommend are I, Daniel Blake, The Big Short and Inside Job. For books, I would say 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and William Pitt the Younger by William Hague.

Who would be your ultimate dinner party guests?

I’m sure I give a different answer to this every time I’m asked! Right now it would be Kayla Itsines, Peter Kay, and Robin Williams.

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

The qualification is not just limited to those working in the public sector, so do your research, get in touch with some of the members or students in your region, and ask as many questions as you can to make sure it’s right for you.


Hari Iyer

Hari Iyer - Partner at BDO Malaysia


Hari works as a partner for the audit firm BDO Malaysia. He is the local representative for CIPFA in Malaysia, and has been a member of CIPFA for over 11 years.

Why did you choose to train with CIPFA/become a CIPFA member?

I moved from Australia as a qualified accountant and I got reciprocal membership with CIPFA. I wanted to join because it specialises in the niche area of public sector accounting and finance, and I didn’t see any other body specialising as much as CIPFA does.

What have been the highlights/biggest successes of your career so far?

In my career, the success is not money/fame – I value travel, and I thoroughly enjoy meeting different people and experiencing different cultures, food etc (the good, bad and ugly!). In my role, I have travelled to well over 30 countries and its growing. 

When I was in London, I used to cover 18 countries in Europe - eight in the South Pacific region when I was in Australia, and in Malaysia I now cover seven countries, and that’s what my success is. The way I look at it, my success is my ability to travel and meet different people in varying cultures. A lot of the myths you read about places in the media and on the internet, you find the complete opposite is true when you go there. I spent 10 days in Yangon in Myanmar and the people are so lovely and nothing like what you see in the media. Unless you travel there yourself, you’re not going to experience it and appreciate the variety the world has. The scale of rich and poor across the world is so different.

What’s been the greatest challenge?

Because in my role I travel a lot and work in many different countries, trying to adapt to cultural differences and what is acceptable or not acceptable has been a challenge, particularly in a Muslim country where the gender barriers are stricter. The challenge is that in a short period you have to quickly learn and adapt.


What’s your typical working day like?

I’m a salesperson and therefore my job is not a 9-5 desk job. Sometimes my actual job starts after 5 – I go to a nice place and entertain people until midnight, because that’s when the business deal is done. In the office, I have 43 people working for me and there’ll be loads of approvals to be done which takes up a lot of time during the day. Then there’s general client and billing issues which come up, but my actual job is to go out and get new clients or jobs from existing clients, which is what I enjoy. I’m a real chatterbox, and I do a lot of public speaking at events and conferences which is what I enjoy doing.

When did you first become interested in a career in public finance?

A long, long time ago! I first did some public sector work in Australia in 1988. That was when I first became interested in public finance, mainly because its so different. Even now, some other countries use cash based accounting, whereas private sector moved to accruals based accounting. Moving from cash based to accruals was a challenge for the public sector.

If you didn’t work in public finance, what kind of job would you be doing?

Business development and sales!

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

In my very first job in Australia, my immediate senior Martin Lee advised me that it doesn’t matter how much you earn. If you earn 100 dollars but spend 105 dollars, you are always going backwards. Everyone is chasing the income, but very few people look at their expenses to see if you can reduce it. If you assume 20% of your income is not yours and you can live in the 80% then you can be a millionaire. 35 years later, I still remember that advice.

If you were given one million pounds, how would you spend it?

I would retire and put it in some form of investment. I wouldn’t have to work and do what I enjoy doing, which is talking to people, doing conferences and talking to the younger generation to impart some wisdom!

If you were Chancellor for the day, what would be the first change you would make?

I would abolish tuition fees, and I would make up to year 12 in school totally free to get the basic foundation of education. I’d make the schools, the commute and lunch free for every child. Without basic education, there would be no future for the next generation. After that, productivity and the economy would go up.

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

I think everyone should watch Friends. Take life easier – people are always so stressed all the time, and it would make everyone laugh. That is what is lacking with this current generation I think.

Who would be your ultimate dinner party guests?

You!

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

If you’re interested in public finance, there isn’t any other body that offers the breadth and depth of what CIPFA offers. As someone who has sat on an exam panel reviewing the syllabus, I understand the comprehensive coverage that CIPFA offers for people interested in public finance, whether its in this country or globally. I would strongly recommend joining CIPFA and doing the course as a student. CIPFA is the only body representing public sector accountants.


Julia Warren

Julia Warren - Clerk to Wheathampstead Parish Council


Julia is Clerk to Wheathampstead Parish Council, and her job titles include Chief Executive and Responsible Financial Officer. She has been a member of CIPFA since 1987 and volunteers for the CIPFA South East Region. Julia was elected Fellow in 2016.

Why did you choose to train with CIPFA?

I wanted to get into finance and the public sector. I’ve stayed in the public sector all my life - I started off in the National Audit Office and I went into local government after I had my children. In between I did temporary or unpaid work for charities. I believe in the public sector, and CIPFA (certainly in those days) was the only way you could do public sector finance. CIPFA provides a nice broad education in finance and the peripheral things around it. The syllabus is great, and in my days we did the CIPFA project, which was a way of getting involved with something at a pretty high level, dealing with senior people and doing something that was real and relevant to work. It was the making of me and many of my peers.

What have been the highlights/biggest successes of your career so far?

I’m very proud to be CIPFA member and fellow. I’ve worked my way up and my job is now quite broad because I’m the chief financial officer so I sign off the accounts. I’m very pleased to have achieved the qualifications in my sector, to be able to be town clerk and to be very well thought of locally, and to an extent nationally, within the sector. It is quite small, but we do everything that is done at a greater level, just in smaller numbers.

What’s been the greatest challenge?

You get a lot of scrutiny, and not a lot of support in many ways. I don’t have the resources or the staff, so I do an awful lot myself which has pluses and minuses. It does mean that no day is ever the same, but there are days when you don’t get anything done as you’d planned. It can be hard to prioritise things properly and make sure things get done. You get local crises – we had a huge crisis a year ago which took over my whole job, even though I still had a day job to get on with. It is a good challenge though, and I do enjoy it.

Life in my world is very much about what people’s perceptions are, and you have to deal with the reality of that as well as what actually is there. To be able to think ahead and second guess how things will be perceived. We’re in a great community and have lots of volunteers who help out.

What’s your typical working day like?

It’s very different day to day, and that’s actually the beauty of my job. I have a monthly cycle, and have formal meetings most weeks, council once a month, committee meetings once a week and other meetings. All of these need legal agendas and paperwork and a lot of process you have to follow. There are things that happen regularly, but an awful lots of things that happen in between.

When did you first become interested in a career in public finance?

I went into it straight from university. I did a degree that included management, so although it was an unrelated finance degree, it was interesting enough that it got me on the CIPFA pathway.

If you didn’t work in public finance, what kind of job would you be doing?

I’m really interested in the natural environment, so maybe something along those lines. My first degree was in botany and management studies, which was an ad hoc degree. Because I’d fought to get the degree I wanted after my first year at university, I think this was what made be a bit more interesting to get my interview at the National Audit Office. I’ve always hankered after that kind of thing.

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

Believe in yourself! I got that advice from a colleague, and more recently from CIPFA colleagues. I find volunteering through CIPFA to be really helpful and supportive, both in my career and also in my general welfare.

If you were given one million pounds, how would you spend it?

I’d put it into botanical research.

If you were Chancellor for the day, what would be the first change you would make?

I would give more power to local government, to be able to make their own decisions and have more finance delegated back, because it’s been cut. All the cuts seem to be at local government level, and things are being transferred which were previously at central government level. The money hasn’t followed with it, and has actually been taken away. I would remove the capping rule at local government also.

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

One of the best books I’ve read recently was ‘This is Going to Hurt’ by Adam Kay – it’s fantastic and so funny. It’s one of those books where you can just read a chapter and put it down again.

Who would be your ultimate dinner party guests?

David Attenborough!

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

Go for it! Study hard and don’t be afraid to ask questions. I think it is the best of the CCAB qualifications – if someone was going to study accountancy I would recommend it.



Stephanie Donaldson

Stephanie Donaldson - Group Chief Internal Auditor


Stephanie works as Group Chief Internal Auditor at the Government Internal Audit Agency. She is the CIPFA North West Regional President and an Internal Audit board member for both TISonline and the Special Interest group. She has been a member of CIPFA since 2012.

Why did you choose to train with CIPFA?

I joined Internal Audit in local Government from the retail sector in 2006 and my Head of Internal Audit offered me the opportunity to train with CIPFA.


What have been the highlights/biggest successes of your career so far?

Working in Whitehall feels like an absolute privilege and is definitely my career highlight 

What’s been the greatest challenge?

Working full-time in Internal Audit, with 2 children under 5 and doing my CIPFA PQ was pretty challenging!

What’s your typical working day like?

I live in the northwest but spend two or three days a week in Westminster. A London day is quite hectic – I have lots of client and internal management meetings and tend to work quite long hours when I am away from home. But I often work from home on a Friday, which redresses some of the work / life balance. As Head of Internal Audit for five of our customers, I spend a lot of time in Audit Committees and various customer engagement meetings.


When did you first become interested in a career in public finance?

After I had my children I realised I could no longer continue with my retail audit job, as I spent a lot of time away from home. I applied for a job in Internal Audit for a local council in the northwest and worked in local government for 12 years before becoming a senior civil servant.

If you didn’t work in public finance, what kind of job would you be doing?

I studied Archaeology and Art History at University and had aspirations to work in museums or art galleries – so maybe I would be doing that?

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

Remember your manners... my parents! 

If you were given one million pounds, how would you spend it?

I would splurge some, save some and use the rest to make other people smile... It would be nice to treat friends and family and support charities that are close to my heart.


If you were Chancellor for the day, what would be the first change you would make? 

As HM Treasury’s Head of Internal Audit, I think I’ll have to pass on this question!

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

Sometimes it’s good to watch or read things that are not work related! 😊

Who would be your ultimate dinner party guests?

Michel Roux Jr. (and he could do the cooking!), Neil Armstrong, Salvador Dali and Michelle Obama. Should be an interesting evening!

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

It’s definitely worth the hard work! I have found volunteering for CIPFA hugely rewarding and have made lots of friends and professional connections through CIPFA over the years. In terms of my career, I would not have the job I have today without my qualification.


Paul Sime

Paul Sime - Assistant to Director of Chamber 5 at the European Court of Auditors


Paul works at the European Court of Auditors (ECA) as Assistant to the Director of Chamber 5. He is the President of CIPFA Europe and has been a member since 2015.

Why did you choose to train with CIPFA/become a CIPFA member?

I chose to apply to become a CIPFA member as I consider it an opportunity to continuously improve my expertise in public financial management and keep up to date with best practices in this field. This is of great value in my current position where I am part of a team which is in charge of examining the financial management of the European Union (EU) budget, the reliability of the consolidated annual accounts of the EU, as well as the governance structure of the EU institutions. 
 

What have been the highlights/biggest successes of your career so far?

Before joining the European Court of Auditors, I have worked for a Big 4 audit company where I managed to have a fast track career to the role of manager. I am currently part of the management team of one of the Audit Chambers of the ECA.

What’s been the greatest challenge? 

Shifting from a private sector job to a public sector one, while at the same time moving into an international multicultural environment. It was challenging but also proved to be an extraordinary experience.

What’s your typical working day like?

I am usually in the office at 8:00 am and I start with a planning process, prioritizing the tasks of the day. This is followed by a short daily meeting with my superior where we discuss the progress of the audit tasks and any issues that need to be addressed. I prefer to leave the rest of the morning to work on the audit tasks on which I am assigned and try to schedule any meetings in the afternoon. I am a fan of improving productivity and I constantly try to find means to improve my way of working. I have also days when we have to visit our auditee, who usually is the European Commission based in Brussels. 


When did you first become interested in a career in public finance?

I would like to say that I had a revelatory moment or some sort of grand plan, but in fact, it is much simpler. When my home country, Romania, joined the European Union in 2007 I have seen the notice of competitions for auditors and decided to give it a try, as it sounded like quite a different experience from what I had done before. After a few years of working at the ECA I realised that I quite enjoyed what I was doing and decided to stay and build a career.
 

If you didn’t work in public finance, what kind of job would you be doing? 

I am also a fan of technology so I would like to think I would have started building mobile phone apps. 

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

I don’t remember who said it or where I read it, but it is something like this: “When you have an opportunity it is best to take advantage of it. Even if it doesn’t work out in the end, you will regret much more not taking any action”. And a second one. Watching the original Star Wars movies with my kids, I picked up these famous words of Master Yoda: ‘Do. Or do not. There is no try.’ 

If you were given one million pounds, how would you spend it?

I am originally from the part of Romania called Transylvania (yes, that one) which has amazing mountain scenery, so I would start a tourism company over there.


If you were Chancellor for the day, what would be the first change you would make? 

I would propose to allocate more funds to areas where decisive action is required such as tackling climate change.

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

I would actually recommend the Econtalk podcast, for a weekly dose of economics in daily life.

Who would be your ultimate dinner party guests? 

I would love to have a dinner with Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger. I am fascinated by their ability to continuously keep learning and improving, and by their long-term successful partnership. 

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

If you want to build a career in public financial management CIPFA is the qualification you need. It will not only provide you with the knowledge and the tools to perform, but it would also be a competitive advantage for a management position.


Will Goodchild

Will Goodchild - Graduate Finance Trainee at Essex County Council


Will works as a graduate finance trainee, and is currently rotating onto a placement in adult social care. He has been studying with CIPFA for three years, and is President of the South East CIPFA Student Network, as well as the Vice President of the National Student Network. 

Why did you choose to train with CIPFA?

If you go into the public sector, it really is the gold standard for public sector accounting, so that was the main focus of my decision. It is CCAB certified and was specific to the kind of work I would be doing.

What have been the highlights/biggest successes of your career so far?

My biggest success so far is somehow managing to get my 2:1 in Mathematics from one of the top Mathematics universities in the world! That was a big highlight for me. In terms of my work with CIPFA, I’m very pleased to have secured these roles with the South East CSN and National CSN. It's a big challenge, but also extremely rewarding at the same time. 

What’s been the greatest challenge?

I undertook a short three month placement in management accounting just as we were beginning the budget setting cycle. That was a tricky one - I had to learn as I went and after three months I had completed setting a £30 million budget with next to no prior experience of that area. That was probably the biggest work challenge for me! 

What’s your typical working day like?

I have quite an untypical typical work day. I bought a flat very close to work, so I can move between work and home quite regularly. I wake up early and check emails at home, and plan out my day. I normally come into the office between 10 and 11, and then end the day playing table tennis with a colleague! Not having to commute means I can use that extra time to do lots of other things.


When did you first become interested in a career in public finance?

Both of my parents trained as social workers, so it was really instilled in me throughout childhood doing something more than just delivering a profit. Although I didn’t know it, I was probably always going to end up in the public sector. My mum worked for a charity helping disabled children and my sister is in a wheelchair, so I've always sensed the need to protect the most vulnerable in society. When the job came up, I thought it really fitted what I'd like to do.

If you didn’t work in public finance, what kind of job would you be doing?

My ideal job would be working as a crew member on a yacht in the Med. I learned to sail as a teenager, and for our family holidays we used to rent yachts for a few days and travel around the south coast. It’s always a bit wet and windy there, so going somewhere where it’s nice and warm seems nicer!

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

The piece of advice that stuck with me the most was given by Sir Tony Redmond. I was at the CIPFA South East Summer Conference and was seated next to him. I eventually plucked up the courage to ask him what kind of advice he could give me. He told me that although it's worthwhile having a long term goal, you should really focus your energy on the next step. You need to strive for that, otherwise you won't end up getting to the end result. Having a short term focus with incremental steps is really important. 

If you were given one million pounds, how would you spend it?

I would end up being extremely sensible and accountant-like! I'd probably take 90% and invest in some property and some other funds to diversify a bit. I'd try and set myself up for the future. It would be quite fun to go on some holidays with the remaining £100,000!




If you were Chancellor for the day, what would be the first change you would make?

Because I work in local government and am passionate about it, it seems to me like we've been hit quite hard in austerity. I'd immediately increase levels of funding for services such as adults and children’s social care. The NHS got a pretty big cash injection of 20 billion recently, so I think I’d try and do the same for local government. 

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

A colleague lent me a book called Freakonomics – I read it recently and it really changed my perspective on serious questions, but all with a light-hearted approach. It helps you think about problems you face in your day to day work, by viewing it from a different angle. I thought it was really useful. 

Who would be your ultimate dinner party guests?

I've always been fascinated with Alan Turing - I have a relative who passed the legendary crossword and went to Bletchley Park and worked with him. She would never tell us anything about what went on, so it would be interesting to hear his side of the story. I love Science, so I’d include Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, and a games designer called Dave Haywood - he's a personal favourite of mine.

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

There's something a little different about CIPFA which I don’t think the other accountancy bodies do quite as well. I think CIPFA really tries to look after its members and make them feel supported and welcomed into this community. If you're hesitating, I would say take the leap and join the CIPFA family! 




Darrell Hurtt

Darrell Hurtt - Senior Trainer at CIPFA Education and Training Centre


Darrell is a Senior Trainer with the CIPFA Education and Training Centre for students working towards their Professional Qualification. He has worked with CIPFA for over 20 years and is based in the CIPFA London office.

Why did you choose to become a CIPFA member?

Whatever I’ve done in terms of social activities, I’ve always been the one to eventually teach people how to do it! Maybe I have a natural inclination for it, and I definitely do enjoy it. I’ve got a fairly inquisitive mind, and there’s nothing that teaches you about a subject more than having to teach it to somebody else! You have to know it all inside out. The students have no knowledge at first, so you have to be prepared for any question they might throw at you.

What have been the highlights/biggest successes of your career so far?

It’s a continuous thing, because every time the exam results come out you can see if the majority of your pupils have passed. The students who are borderline, but are really determined and try really hard to pass – when they pass the exam it’s a real highlight. The thank you's and feedback from the lessons is nice as well.

What’s been the greatest challenge?

The greatest challenge is normally trying to work through the stuff that shouldn’t get in the way, but it does! Usually IT problems and stuff like that. It’s the little stuff like that that’s challenging.

What’s your typical working day like?

It depends whether I’m training or not. Training days are usually for six hours and one subject with the same group, either face to face in the training rooms here, or the ones in Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester, and Cardiff. We now have a global training strategy, and now we have more students outside the UK than inside the UK, and that’s all done via the online training platform. When it’s not a training day, I’m usually preparing materials and getting ready for the next session. We also have to update the materials to keep up with the rule changes. There’s four exams a year, so we train pretty constantly all year round.



When did you first become interested in a career in public finance?

I started university doing zoology, but I dropped out after failing my exams. I worked in a bookies for a while, and then I did a retraining TOPS course in accountancy. I got really interested in the law part, so went back to uni and did a law degree. I then joined the National Audit Office, because I was interested in financial accountancy. That’s where I started training and really enjoyed that.

If you didn’t work in public finance, what kind of job would you be doing?

The policy and technical side intrigues me, but I’ve been in this job for so long that I’m not sure what else I would do!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given or been given? And by who?

My advice would be - Always read the question!

My dad was a teacher and asked a colleague for some advice on what makes a good teacher and she replied with ‘Hold them by the hand, and kick them in the arse!’ I’ve had classes where nobody’s been making an effort, so I tell them that if you don’t put the effort in, you will fail. The only you’re going to be able to do this is by actually doing it! You can’t stare at a page and expect the numbers to jump out at you – you have to get on with it!

If you were given one million pounds, how would you spend it?

I would buy my wife a VW campervan, and I would buy both my children a kayak for playing kayak poloing. They both recently got heavily into it.

If you were Chancellor for the day, what would be the first change you would make?

The one thing that really irritates me is the child benefit taper, where the benefit allowance is measured by person instead of household. It’s really bad for stay at home mums and dads.

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

There’s one film I found fascinating called the Billion Dollar Bubble, from the 1970s. It’s about one of the earliest examples of computer fraud by a mutual equity insurance company. They created a ficititious account to balance the numbers and added fake insurance policies to it.  A book which I would recommend to anyone who’s not interested in Maths is Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh. It’s a real page turner.

Who would be your ultimate dinner party guests?

Stephen Fry would have to be my ultimate dinner party guest. One of my bucket list ambitions was to get on QI!

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

Bear in mind that CIPFA is vocational, and is something you are going to use in your chosen career. So if you are working in public services, it should be your first choice. Unlike other professional qualifications, CIPFA is about financial management in general, so there’s more scope to branch out into other things. Just see where it leads you!