CIPFA Conference – Councils to cut finance staff

Councils will reduce the size of their finance departments after the millennium and demand more of the accountants who remain in post, according to a leading council chief executive.

Bill Roots, chief executive of Westminster city council, told delegates that financial skills would need to be ingrained into managers while finance staff would have to ensure that they had the necessary skills to maintain their S151 responsibilities.

The S151 or accountable officer roles stipulate which staff member is ultimately responsible for financial accountability at a local authority.

In the past, treasurers were rarely on the council’s main officer boards and the accountable officer’s post was filled by chief executives. Now many S151 roles are undertaken by second or even third-tier officers including FDs.

‘This cannot be right and I am convinced that where a reduction in status has occurred this will be reversed,’ Roots said. ‘Authorities that do not relate finance and policy issues alongside each other in importance in strategic management terms are doomed to failure.’

In London, the government Bill creating the Greater London Assembly and mayor indicates that no less than five new S151 officers will be appointed.

The proposals could cause confusion and cloud exactly who has the final say on overall financial issues.

Roots warned the situation could prove disastrous.

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