The rise of the interim role in public finance: thoughts from CIPFA-Penna's senior associate consultant for local government, Catherine Bush
Let me start off by saying that I’ve had the pleasure of working in the public sector recruitment industry for nearly 15 years. During this time, I’ve gained experience through working several roles, including front of house, managing contracts and invoicing, and finally getting the opportunity to work with Penna’s executive interim team – firstly within HR, and subsequently with CIPFA-Penna, placing finance professionals into the public sector.
So, why am I telling you this? I believe it’s important to let you know that in my time working across Penna, I have witnessed some major changes in market behaviour, our clients and our strong finance network of candidates, especially during the pandemic.
I returned from maternity leave in May of this year and, like many others, had the chance to reflect on what’s important to me as an individual, where my priorities should lie and how I can support others. From a professional angle, it is really important for me to be able to continue working with and treating our clients and candidates with respect, courtesy and empathy. The last 18 months have been tough on us all, right?
I’m speaking here not just from a professional perspective but from a personal one too. At Penna, we’re not just a business – we’re much more than that. Our motto is, “We are family”, and fundamentally, this is how we approach the way we do business.
In finance, times have been particularly taxing. Budgets have been cut and the money flowing into authorities has been redirected, given the increased need for social care and public health. As the purseholders, finance teams have been responsible for ensuring the COVID-19 crisis was appropriately funded.
Enough about my thoughts… has the mindset of our interims changed in that time too? Behaviours would lead us to believe so. If you’re a finance interim, let’s take a moment to think about the following:
- Why did you become an interim in the first place?
- What made you take that leap and how has the pandemic affected this?
The majority of interims make a conscientious decision to enter that world for a better work/life balance, along with the flexibility to be more selective in the skills they want to utilise. Interim life allows them to offer expertise across a number of different public sector organisations, giving something back to the public. It has always been a competitive market, and making an impact in a short space of time is quite often the key to success.
At the beginning of the pandemic, there appeared to be flexibility on day rates, the ability to work from home and reducing travel costs. This meant that the workforce needed to fit in with the demand of our clients. For as long as I’ve been in recruitment, there has been scrutiny on the ‘worth of an interim’, but it must be noted that interims are highly skilled individuals who are expected to ‘hit the ground running’, often working long hours and maintaining minimal interaction with others, especially given the rise in home working. With the drive in demand for niche skills and interims being sought after, the pool of available candidates is diminishing. The knock-on effect of this is that interims are now able to demand higher rates and ask for more.
I’ve also seen a sharp intake of ‘rising stars’ making the transition from permanent to interim within local government finance. While they may not yet have the wealth of experience that seasoned interims have, they often have lower expectations on day rates. Could our clients view this as an opportunity to save money and still get the job done to a fantastic standard?
With the need for interim professionals at an all-time high, our clients want to hang onto their expertise. Extensions are on the rise, and more often than not, interims will see out their contract. However, there have been occasions when interims move assignments partway through for a similar role offering a higher day rate. Our clients have invested their faith in both interims and agencies, so is this really a good use of public funds?
Let us not forget that our reputation precedes us. The local government interim finance market is a small one, and we all want to be known for our professionalism, which is why my advice would always be to see your contract out. You never know when you may come across the same faces.
I’m almost certain my thoughts will divide opinion, but remember these are merely my observations since returning to work in May. I’d be interested in hearing from our interim network about their take on this. How difficult have the last 18 months been for you and is there anything we can do to support you?
Let us know and we will do what it takes to help you through these unprecedented times.
Senior Associate Consultant, Local Government
Diversity and inclusion in 2021: why local authority organisations can have such a great influence on good diversity and inclusion in wider society
Diversity and inclusion. Those words have taken on an increased significance in light of world events in the past decade.
Not only does wider society have an obligation to champion this cause, but captains of industry are fast becoming powerful, leading voices and examples of good diversity and inclusion. Society looks to leading organisations in the private and public sectors to set strong examples that we can all aspire to follow. As a backbone and integral part of any organisation, finance teams large and small have a huge part to play.
Local authority finance teams are no different. In fact, it is arguable that the stance taken by such organisations will resonate more deeply with society – particularly with the citizens in their own constituencies. We must sensitively and carefully integrate the values of all causes under the vast diversity and inclusion umbrella into our own strategies to ensure we can move forward and look to the future in the right way. There is perhaps no more fitting time to reflect on this topic than 2021, with several high-profile incidences highlighting just how much work still needs to be done to address fundamental and institutional bias still prevalent across wider society.
At Penna, we look forward to once again celebrating Black History Month this October. It’s a time that not only highlights the achievements and contributions of black people everywhere in a world that historically has overlooked this, but it also challenges racism and discrimination (conscious and subconscious), as well as educating others about the important achievements of black, Asian and other ethnically diverse individuals in our country’s history and in the industry too.
At a recent webinar for bringing people’s attention to diversity and inclusion agendas in local government finance, we were thrilled to be joined by two excellent speakers: Daniel Omisore (Director of Finance at the London Borough of Camden) and Morenike Ajayi (former Finance Director at the London Pension Fund Authority. They spoke inspiringly of their own career progression as black leaders in local government finance, as well as discussing what we can do as managers and leaders to improve diversity and inclusion in our businesses and in our society.
Below is a screenshot from this event. Watch out for similar events that will discuss more pieces of the diversity and inclusion puzzle in the coming months.
Among other things, Daniel and Morenike spoke about some practical tips they’ve employed in their current and previous leadership positions aimed at building diverse teams and fostering a more inclusive culture. One such tip that resonated and that is starting to be adopted more widely in recruitment is anonymising CVs. Removing personal details such as name, address and even sometimes education details has proved to be an excellent way of completely levelling the playing field and eradicating unconscious bias that might otherwise unfairly influence a decision. It’s a great way to ensure that aspects of an individual’s character such as race, socioeconomic background, education level, religion, etc aren’t factors in the decision-making process. Instead, decisions are based entirely on the relevant experience for the job in question, ensuring there is no room for unconscious bias of any kind.
It will take time to get to where we all want to be – to a world that looks back at the inequalities prevalent today with disbelief. More importantly, it will take continual effort and a constant voice to keep awareness of good diversity and inclusion at the forefront of our minds.
Take a look at your own organisation and ask: what more could we be doing to set an example that we want everyone to follow? Granted, people do look to leading celebrities, massive conglomerates and world leaders for examples, but the beauty of local government is that it’s much closer to the people it is trying to influence. While people may not automatically look to local government for an example to follow, they will surely react more personally when they do, and examples set by local authority organisations will have a deeper, more influential impact on the people we need to reach. Finance can start by leading the way.
Senior Consultant, Local Government
Making the move: top tips on transitioning from permanent work into interim assignments
At CIPFA-Penna, we're seeing more and more candidates shift into interim work. Making the move can be daunting. Working out day rates, setting up your business, winning work and marketing yourself can seem unfamiliar territory. Plus, you need the right recruiter at your side. Mizan Rouf gives his top tips on transitioning to interim.
As the way in which public services are delivered changes over the coming months and years and a greater emphasis is placed on workforce flexibility in local government, more and more employees will look for agile ways of working. One of the key considerations is whether to transition from permanent employment into interim work.
If you're looking to leave the stability of permanent employment, the jump into interim work can be complex, but with careful consideration and planning it can be a seamless transition.
The first question to consider is why you want to work in this way. What are your motives and goals? Really think about what being an interim will be like and know that it is what you want, and you will be more driven to succeed. To help you consider that question, it's worth looking at some of the benefits of interim work.
Many interims feed back to me that one of the best things of this type of role is having flexibility and control. You can choose which organisations you would like to work for without limiting yourself to staying in one place or role for a long period of time. You have the flexibility to work part time, full time or on short-term project-based roles. You benefit from choosing the types of roles you put yourself forward for, giving you more variety and making your work life more interesting.
After a number of assignments, you can carve out a niche for yourself in the marketplace and develop a specialism. You should be able to recognise how you can make an impact in a short period of time. Successful finance interims often talk about how they have improved systems and processes, enhancing the way things are done and how they have added value to an organisation from day one. I often hear how satisfying it is to affect real organisational change.
Interims are often hired when there is a problem or change required, so if the thought of going into an organisation, meeting new people and fixing faults appeals to you then you are likely to enjoy interim work. The projects you take on as an interim are likely to be very focused – objectives will be set at the beginning and in a short period of time you will be expected to deliver against these targets. For that reason, you would normally move sideways in the organisational hierarchy. In our experience it is not uncommon for veteran s151 officers to be parachuted into a role where they are supporting the existing s151 officer. If you're considering where to pitch yourself in the market, please don't hesitate to speak to us at CIPFA-Penna.
Other considerations when deciding to make the move are around lifestyle and personal circumstances. As an interim you would not normally receive holiday pay, sick pay, local government pension or other employment benefits. Additionally, there may be times when you are between roles so ensure that you are prepared for such financial and working gaps. These lulls are usually offset by an improved day rate, but careful financial planning is always important.
One last piece of advice: one of the big no-nos of interim work is leaving an assignment early. Unless a catastrophe beyond your control happens, I would advise that you always see out a contract, particularly your first one.
Finish your assignment on time, complete your objectives, make a good impression with colleagues and your line manager, and leave the organisation knowing that you have fulfilled your obligations. By ending assignments on good terms you will:
- leave the door open for you to return there in the future
- enhance your reputation in the interim market – reputation and credibility count for a lot.
At CIPFA-Penna we can offer advice on setting your day rate, limited company arrangements and the basics of getting started as an interim. We also have a range of new to interim workshops and events that you would be welcome to join. Many of our experienced interims are also very happy to give reflections on their experience.
If you are considering making the move from permanent employment to interim work and would like to know how CIPFA-Penna can help, please feel free to contact Mizan.Rouf@penna.com or T: 07395 855007.