Brexit & EconomyPoliticsOverview: the Treasury’s part-time chief’s juggling act

Overview: the Treasury's part-time chief's juggling act

Prospects: can the Treasury's part-time chief win over MPs?

Jon Thompson, Director General, corporate services directorate

Jon Thompson, Director General, corporate services directorate

Jon Thompson is to become the new Dame Mary Keegan, taking over the
government’s overall financial management.

Thompson moves into the position next month with a sterling reputation as
director general of corporate services at the Department for Children, Schools
and Families.

But it is his plan to continue in this role while taking on the position as
head of government accounting that has become a bone of contention for
politicians.

What’s happened?

MPs have blasted the appointment as Thompson will juggle his new role and his
current role as director general for corporate services at the Department for
Children, Schools and Families.

They’ve scorned his ‘part-time’ role at a time when government accounting has
taken a public battering for not being ready to switch to international
financial reporting standards, as well as being elusive as to how it will deal
with masses of controversial PFI debt – sure to break the government’s own
sustainable investment rule.

Despite the scathing ‘part-timer’ label – odd for a man who works a 70-hour
week in his current role – there isn’t any malicious hint of incompetence on the
part of Thompson.

At the news of his appointment, the Treasury’s permanent secretary Nick
Macpherson commended Thompson for transforming financial management in his
department, and said Whitehall would benefit from his wealth of private and
public sector experience and expertise.

But MPs appear to have little faith that Thompson will be able to whip the
whole of Whitehall into the leaner and more efficient operation that it should
be, if he’s going to be dividing his time and energy to that of the equally
demanding Department for Children, Schools and Families.

What’s going to happen?

For now, the Treasury seems to be sticking to the plan to allow Thompson to
wear two hats.

He has his work cut out for him but he’s recently built more capacity into
his current department – which may allow him the leeway to focus more on
Whitehall’s accounting problems at large.

But it still isn’t clear how Thompson will manage the dual roles.

Some might even question whether there could be issues over conflict of
interest.

Thompson is said to have a remarkable skill for seeing numbers as colours and
having a quick grasp of spreadsheets as a result.

Whatever else happens, remarkable is what he will need to be in his new
roles.

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