Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

CIPFA South West welcomes new President

The South West region held their AGM and conference in March, and after four years, CIPFA South West's President Christina Earls has passed the baton to Sean Cremer of Torbay Council.

A message from Christina

After four years of being President of CIPFA South West, it was a delight to hand the badge of honour over to Sean Cremer from Torbay Council. Congratulations, Sean!

The AGM and conference were held remotely for the second time, unfortunately, but this did not preclude a great set of sessions for the day, kicked off by Mike Driver, CIPFA President and Rob Whiteman CBE, CIPFA Chief Executive.

It was so good to see Mike in his presidential year, as I worked with him many years ago in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), where we supported John Codling, another great CIPFA advocate, when he was DWP Finance Director General. Mike and Rob both covered the current negotiations and discussions with ICAEW and indicated that a vote for merger is likely to be towards the end of the year or early 2023. I remember our previous work on the last merger vote – it will be good if the regions are asked to provide as much support and engagement as we did last time!

The conference then had the pleasure of welcoming some of the key leadership team at Cornwall Council, including the council’s leader Councillor Linda Taylor, and Kate Kennally, Chief Executive, whom we first heard from at my inaugural AGM as President in 2018. We mustn’t forget also Tracie Langley, COO and CFO at Cornwall and a longstanding CIPFA supporter and colleague.

This was a fabulous session on what is currently developing in Cornwall, including the twin aims of creating a cleaner, greener, fairer and more inclusive Cornwall, and this being done through the Cornwall Plan, an effective place leadership governance model that brings together all the key strategic partners and partnerships operating in Cornwall. This includes the Council of the Isles of Scilly, the police and crime commissioner, the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Health and Care Partnership Senate and the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

There was then a thought-provoking session on ‘Being Agile’ at year-end, using the Retrospective Sailing game and Agile improvement workshop delivered by Belinda Waldock. We all had a takeaway from the session to use the analogy of building a sailing boat: we visualised the wind for our sails and the anchors that drag. More information can be found at Belinda’s website, Being Agile.

The event was wrapped up by Barrie Morris from Grant Thornton, who are always great supporters of our events in the South West. Barrie brought us up to speed on the current state of public audit and preparations for the year-end. A tough call now, but he did a great job on this subject and in wrapping up our day.

Sean closed the meeting with reminders on how the region is always looking for new talent and touched on plans for a face-to-face meeting in the autumn – fingers crossed!

Christina Earls
Proud past President of CIPFA South West

 

Meet the new President – Sean Cremer CPFA, Deputy Head of Finance at Torbay Council

Headshot of Sean Cremer, CIPFA South West regional PresidentSean became the Deputy Head of Finance and Deputy Section 151 Officer at Torbay Council in July 2019.

Sean’s professional public finance journey started at Aberdeen City Council, where he was part of their trainee accountant scheme in 2013. Here he gained a broad range of practical experience supporting all aspects of the local authority. This supported Sean in moving into the role of Finance Operations Manager at the start of 2018, before moving to Torbay in 2019.

In 2016, Sean was awarded the Archie Gillespie Memorial Prize as the top student in local government in Scotland in the final examinations. In 2021, he was awarded the Danny Batten Memorial for services to the CIPFA South West region and was then elected President of the CIPFA South West Regional Council in March 2022.

What attracted you to a career in local government?

I studied Accountancy and Business Management at De Montfort University in Leicester, and in my final year, I chose a module on Public Finance and Accountancy. This initially sparked my interest in how public finance professionals can help shape and influence outcomes for the public. Some of the key lessons from that module were invaluable in my CIPFA studies and are still in my role now.

This ability to make a difference through improved outcomes is what really motivates me. When I leave the office and walk home, every single person I walk past is impacted by the council in some way, even if it’s just by sweeping the street they are walking along. Local government is in a privileged position to not only impact but to improve experiences at every milestone in a person’s life. Whether it’s welcoming a child into the family, starting school, moving house or providing care in later life, we literally cover birth to death and everything in between – where else can you say your accountancy role can have such a broad impact?

Why did you choose a CIPFA accounting qualification?

Shortly after my university graduation, I saw an advert for the CIPFA Trainee Accountant programme at Aberdeen City Council and took the leap of faith to relocate to the northeast of Scotland.

How has your CIPFA training helped you?

The structure of the trainee programme meant my managers and mentors were committed to providing a wide exposure to different opportunities and experiences. This was a really great way to get a feel for the different functions within a finance department and ultimately helped shape my early thoughts about what kind of skills I could develop and what kind of role I would thrive in.

I found the studying and exams really complemented my day-to-day work and helped me understand the theory behind a lot of what I was experiencing. As the qualification progresses to the more strategic exams, this really helps hone the skills needed to operate at more senior levels – in particular, being able to walk into a scenario and quickly identify which aspects are most significant to the finances, analyse options, and then come up with an appropriate course of action, all at pace!

Who has supported you in your career journey so far?

Everyone I have worked with has helped in some way. I have tried to learn as much as I can from everyone and every situation I am in – good, bad or indifferent! 
I completed the trainee programme with my fellow trainee, Leona Lowe. Studying alongside someone who was equally motivated, driven and had a shared passion to succeed was invaluable. We both supported each other so much through all aspects of our trainee programmes. I don’t think I would be where I am now if I didn’t have such a fierce ally, competitor and friend.

I’ve also been lucky to have had incredibly supportive managers when I was at Aberdeen, who really backed me and made sure I had the opportunities to grow and develop. In Torbay, I have an excellent CFO, Martin Phillips, who has also really supported and challenged me to refine my skills and increase my impact.
In both organisations, I have also been really fortunate to work with some excellent colleagues at director and head of service levels, and I have learned so much about how to improve service outcomes from working with them.

It feels somewhat as though ‘luck’ has given me the exposure to some of the people or situations I have learned the most from. As a result, I’m 100% committed to paying this forward and creating these same opportunities for others. How I’ve been doing this recently is through taking an active role in mentoring and supporting CIPFA and AAT students, as well as being part of schemes for school students and other public sector colleagues.

What is your advice to CIPFA students and new graduates?

Always be curious – find out why something has happened and where the opportunities are to influence. The finances are as the result of an action, so if you want to improve the finances of your service or organisation, you need to get to the root cause and influence the quality of decision making around service delivery.

Find out more about ‘business intelligence’ and ‘data visualisation’ and how finance data can be integrated into service performance data. The business intelligence will help shape service delivery and provide the ability to target interventions – whether that’s something simple like which services are seeing increased demand, leading to higher costs, or once you overlay location data, this could identify which communities need a more joined-up service offering to tackle multiple complex needs. High-quality data visualisation will unlock engagement from managers in a way a spreadsheet never can!

Pay attention to everyone around you and learn from every experience. In meetings, reflect on what went well. What will you do better next time? Who was effective in the meeting? How did they handle the situation? Work out what you can learn from the situation and put this into practice next time.

My final piece of advice is to know when to take things seriously and when to have a bit of fun. All challenges are opportunities to learn and develop. President Franklin D. Roosevelt is famously quoted for saying: “Smooth seas never made a skilled sailor”, and believe me when I say there are no shortage of waves in this ocean.