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Financial decisions at the top

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There is no question that finance has traditionally been one of the lead disciplines at the highest levels of local government. It will remain vital as authorities manage their way through the recession and into economic recovery.

However, other skills such as communications and relationship management will also be increasingly important if chief executives and senior teams are to lead staff and citizens through transformational change, and influence external partners.

This fact could well lead key appointment panels to recruit chief executives from a more diverse range of backgrounds.

The ongoing importance of financial affairs together with the prospect of more chief executives from a non-finance background make the involvement of section 151 officers in decision-making all the more important. In this context, LGC’s research is a cause for concern.

Keeping s151 officers at arm’s length could send out a negative message about status and value of finance in the organisation

Emma Maier, editor of LGC

As many as a quarter of s151 officers do not report to the chief executive and an eighth are not on the management team, which raises alarm bells when Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy guidance stresses the importance of senior finance officials.

In this context, LGC’s most recent research is a cause for concern: as many as a quarter of s151 officers do not report into the chief executive and, in contravention of Cipfa guidance, an eighth are not on the management team.

Keeping s151 officers at arm’s length could send out a negative message about status and value of finance in the organisation, which is relevant: perception can be as important as reality.

Even where councils have found ways to work without following Cipfa’s guidance, it must be asked whether a more conventional model would be simpler.

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