Whitehall will be qualified: better late than never

It may come as a surprise to anyone who does not work in the finance function
of a government department, that the head of that function was not, until very
recently, required to hold a finance qualification.

It is difficult to imagine a FTSE 100 company employing a finance director
who had not acquired a recognised finance qualification. Yet this is exactly
what has been happening for a while now.

As reported in Accountancy Age, unqualified central government FDs
are still handling around £45bn of public money, despite a much-publicised
policy change that was meant to prevent this happening. So, how has this

Let us first put the situation into context. Traditionally, bright sparks
entered Whitehall straight from university, often on the back of a fine liberal
education, and found any one of a number of career paths open to them. Reaching
the top after following such diverse career paths, they emerged as well-rounded

They had developed a broad knowledge base and finely honed insights into the
complex workings of government machinery they might have missed had they sat at
the same desk for twenty years. Hard-won experience of what works (and when it
works) still has a lot going for it. But now the government wants professionals
and specialists in many top jobs. This is difficult to argue against. Why
shouldn’t we have the brightest and the best qualified running our public
services? It is no more than our taxes deserve.

CIPFA, Warwick Business School and the Treasury have been quietly but
effectively plugging away for the last two years to meet this need. A rigorous
two-year course taught by some of the best tutors in the business has recruited
over 100 public sector FDs on the journey to becoming ‘street legal’.

The recent National Audit Office report, which highlighted the government’s
failure to meet the end of 2006 deadline to get Whitehall FDs qualified, is
clearly of concern though. Perhaps the deadline was always a little too
ambitious or underestimated the culture change required. However, the
departments identified in the report are now fully committed to the
professionalisation programme.

Realistically, the whole process across Whitehall could be completed within
two years. Yes, the deadline has been missed, but the good news is the matter is
firmly in hand.

Adrian Pulham is education and training director at

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