Bean-counters to strategists: why CFOs need more power

Increasingly, public sector number-crunchers are being asked to play a bigger role in driving agency productivity and reform. But are agencies supporting CFOs well enough to make the shift?

Grant Hehir

Grant Hehir

New South Wales auditor-general Grant Hehir has called for public sector chief financial officers to work smarter, step out of their corporate silos and contribute more business insight to agencies’ primary functions.

In the NSW Audit Office’s Volume One 2015 Report to Parliament released late last month, Hehir warned opportunities to support government’s efficiency priorities were not being seized by those with the skills to contribute:

 “The 2014 audits identified issues in the area of governance and gaps in performance information and reporting across the sector, which suggest chief financial officers should have a stronger role and be more involved in matters that go beyond financial efficiency.”

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  • The neutral Australian

    Hard to disagree with the sentiment, but having CFOs and their finance staff engaging in strategy and other fluffing about is not going to make any difference to every day financial performance. The reality is most Australian public service agencies and departments have enjoyed budget increases for the past 20 odd years. As a consequence there is little budget discipline and moreover many agencies and departments lack the skills in planning, costing and management to extract the most value in the context of contracting out.

    The way forward is for a straightforward approach to financial management that holds line managers accountable for their financial performance. Anything less is a waste of time and public money. By making senior and middle management actually responsible for their budgets they can’t find excuses, nor can they hope to outsource their responsibilities to the finance staff.

    Faced with such responsibilities, officials will either smarten up, or they can find something else to do. Get this right, and good financial strategy will follow.