There is little fanfare around the world of public sector accountancy but despite its otherwise unassuming nature it has, in fact, been a turbulent year with wholesale changes bringing about major reorganisations.
Constitutional reform in Scotland, the creation of the new Greater London Authority and conflict over the ever expanding crop of public private partnerships, have provided opportunities for a spotlight to shine on the world of public sector audit and accountancy.
And if the spotlight has fallen on bodies and issues, it must also illuminate key individuals who have been in the thick of things initiating policy and far reaching changes which have gone some way to transform local government and public accountability.
At Accountancy Age we want to reward individuals working in the public sector for their commitment and pursuit of excellence with our Public Services Achievement of the Year Award.
A panel of experts will decide whether entrants can demonstrate imagination and financial skill in achieving best value for service users. The winner will satisfy the needs of internal and external customers.
One of the individuals at the forefront of the upheavals is Wendy Thomson who has headed up the Audit Commission’s introduction of Best Value.
Controversial, and on its way to being notorious, Best Value is perhaps the single most important change in local government for years. It has caused fear, apprehension and no small of amount of worry among local government offices, but on 1 April, it came into force.
Thomson then moved to the fore. Best Value asks local authorities, police and fire authorities to ask whether service could be done better. They must carry out a review that has to be examined by Best Value inspectors.
Thomson, as director of inspection, has a heavy responsibility.
She has had to set up the department and appoint key staff, including regional directors.
After facing House of Commons select committees, which asked her bluntly to justify the work of her department, and a grilling at the hands of the press, Thomson has already garnered much respect.
A spokesman at the commission said: ‘Setting up the Best Value Inspection regime has been an enormous challenge. We are talking about a major new level of inspection being set up from scratch and becoming operational in a very short period of time.’
But if Thomson is attracting attention, so is Bob Black, auditor general in Scotland, who has also virtually had to set up a new body.
Audit Scotland came into being under Black on 1 April this year as part of the constitutional changes north of the border. It will audit departments of the new Scottish Executive as well as fire and police authorities, health boards and trusts, further education colleges and water authorities.
Black’s major work however has been bringing the body together after merging staff from the National Audit Office and the Accounts Commission. The work includes financial and performance audits.
But while bringing the two disparate groups of staff together is a job in itself, Black has also had to work on defining and managing the new remit which includes reference to the new Scottish Parliament.
There is much enthusiasm for new arrangements in Scotland which are viewed as a vast improvement on the scheme in Westminster where the Public Accounts Committee hears evidence regarding reports produced by the NAO.
In Scotland, however, reports from Audit Scotland can go straight to parliamentary subject committees who have the power, unlike at Westminster, to initiate legislation. This is a major innovation and given that they might use audit reports for the basis of proposed legislation it puts Black in a unique position. Even the new auditor general has conceded it is not ‘unreasonable’ to conclude he now has influence.
For other important events look no further than public sector accountancy body CIPFA, which has this year greeted new chief executive Steve Freer.
Freer arrives complete with plaudits for his work at Warwickshire County Council where he was treasurer. But despite his ambition he has a hard act to follow after the departure of David Adams.
Under Adams’ tenure student numbers rose and the body produced a surplus of #500,000 after struggling with debts. At the vanguard of the successes was Ken Gill, director of education and training, who publicly staked his job on turning round the fall in student numbers.
Elsewhere there have been equally impressive performances by public sector accountants. Both Glasgow and Birmingham have seen major PFI projects in their schools. Of particular note however is Sarah Wood, FD at the city council in Birmingham who has managed to see through to completion a project worth #78m to refurbish schools. Given the time it takes to get a PFI project off the ground, and the apparently unending round of negotiations with contractors, the achievement is almost herculean.
The personalities mentioned may or may not be nominated for the awards but they give a good measure of the standard any winner will have to reach.
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Entry is free
Closing date for entries: 28 July 2000
Ceremony: 1 November 2000
Venue: Natural History Museum, London
Accountancy Age is happy to have won the backing of all five major accountancy bodies again this year along with a host of other key players in the accountancy profession.
As well as the presentations, the evening will provide an excellent opportunity to meet leaders of the accountancy world. Bookings for tables open this week and you can reserve your seat at the profession’s top event of 2000 by dialling 020 7316 9539 or e-mailing: email@example.com
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