Brexit & EconomyPoliticsThompson under fire over dual government FD roles

Thompson under fire over dual government FD roles

Jon Thompson appointed director general of finance at the Ministry of Defence after a desperate two-year search from the latter

Jon Thompson

Jon Thompson

Jon Thompson has taken Whitehall watchers by surprise again after being
appointed director general of finance at the Ministry of Defence.

The job, which looked to draw interest from the private sector with a
£250,000 pay package, is one of the toughest and most high profile public
finance jobs in the UK. The MOD will doubtless be relieved to fill the post for
a qualified FD after a search of more than two years, which began to look
increasingly desperate.

Thompson has held two high profile jobs before; before accepting the MOD job
he was FD of the Department for Children Schools and Families at the same time
as being head of the government finance profession.

But the decision by Thompson to retain his job as head of the government
finance profession has raised some eyebrows in the public sector. Some public
finance experts have questioned whether Thompson will be able to do either of
his jobs justice.

One former civil service head said: ‘I hope that this a well thought out
decision rather than one taken in desperation to cover for a post they have been
unable to fill.

‘This seems to be taking the adoption of multiple roles too far.’

The MOD role involves managing an annual budget of about £37bn for a
workforce of more than 100,000 civilians and nearly 200,000 military personnel.

One public sector finance expert said being MOD FD involved some complicated
accounting. ‘In terms of its resource accounting, nuclear decommissioning and
its heritage assets [including HMS Victory and the Enigma code-breaking machine]
pose problems.’

Thompson’s appointment at the MOD has an extra twist because he was
originally supposed to oversee the recruitment process for replacing the former
finance chief, Trevor Woolley, who, controversially, was not a qualified
accountant.

The MOD has taken more than two years to find a new FD. In 2008 Sir Nicholas
Macpherson, permanent secretary to the Treasury, told MPs that when the job was
first advertised in the national press no applications were received.

Despite the difficulties Thompson will face, he will be overseeing the
transition of government departments towards adopting international financial
reporting standards.
The MOD rejected concerns that his dual roles would be too heavy a workload or
present a possible conflict of interest.

The department confirmed that the job spec of the role held by Thompson’s
predecessor Mary Keegan had now been downsized.

Louise Tullett now heads up the Treasury’s finances and Ken Beeton is the
director of government financial management, so Thompson’s role is ‘only the
third element – that of leading the profession, i.e. looking at the capacity and
capability of the finance profession across government,’ the MOD said.

‘[His roles as MOD FD and the head of the government finance profession]
doesn’t present a conflict of interests.

‘As DG of finance at the MOD Jon leads the largest contingent of accountants
in government and the role of head of the profession is a natural extension of
that.’

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