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High turnover of CFOs sparks recruitment concerns

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More than half of section 151 officers have been in their post less than three years, raising questions over whether austerity is driving a high turnover in the finance profession.

LGC research found 22% had been in post since April 2018 while a further 30% had held section 151 responsibilities since April 2016.

Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy associate director of local government Brian Roberts told LGC this was a concern.

A number of council chief executives told LGC it was currently difficult to recruit people into senior finance roles.

One chief executive with recent experience of recruiting for a new section 151 officer said the “market for really good finance people is poor right now”.

Another questioned whether finance professionals in local government were getting the range of experiences as they moved up the ranks to take on the more strategic senior roles.

Coventry City Council chief executive Martin Reeves said: “The truth is after 10 years of austerity with major challenges, not least around budgets, it’s not a surprise that we have seen a number of individuals going up through the ranks who have found themselves in the commercial sector or hybrid joint ventures.

“We have to work at retaining and growing them. It’s not an easy pull to get those kind of finance directors that are able to do the brilliant technical stuff that Cipfa do within this bigger context.”

The findings also raise questions about whether there are enough candidates with the required experience to take on section 151 responsibilities alongside a major strategic brief.

Katherine Fairclough, chief executive of Cumbria CC, told LGC in her experience where councils had an individual holding section 151 responsibilities alongside a big strategic remit they tended to also have a “really strong technical team supporting them”.

Mr Roberts insisted there was the “calibre and quality” of people in the profession but suggested the downgrading of 151 officer roles was making local government finance less attractive.

“If you want the best talent coming through then they need to feel that their advice plays an important role in decision making,” he said.

“Positioning the CFO appropriately within the organisation will attract the best calibre of people to fill those roles.”

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