Challenging was the word for central and local government finance professionals. In contrast the NHS, education and charity sectors held up well with finance managers, controllers and head of finance roles the most popular in the more buoyant areas within the public sector. Despite a backdrop of more cuts to public sector funding, the outlook for opportunities for finance professionals looks improved.
How does this influence what type of financial leaders charities and public sector bodies are looking for in 2014 and what are the potential challenges facing them?
Charities & Membership Bodies
Charities that relied on local council funding and those that provide disability assistance were squeezed, with some charities merging and 1600 organisations closing down altogether.
Large charities which relied heavily on donations have struggled over previous years. However, more recently, they have seen an increase in charitable donations in the past 12 months reflecting a more positive mood in the private sector. The result is a more commercial sector increasing headcount in all areas of support staff, in particular, an increase in demand for financial professionals.
Education and training providers
The education sector continues to become more commercial. As a result, more organisations were dedicating time to finding finance business partners, management accountants and commercial VP’s of finance. However, attracting candidates from the commercial sector to education remains a challenge from a salary perspective.
We expect the sector will see continued budgetary changes as public sector funding is reduced and replaced by private tuition fees. The rise in student tuition fees and increased competition with international institutions means next year we will see more higher education institutions having to cut cost and merge roles.
Finance professionals in local and central government faced a tough year as the demand for senior part-qualified and newly-qualified accountants decreased substantially. This trend looks set to continue, with only a few areas recruiting finance staff.
Increased public scrutiny in large corporate affairs after the GFC has resulted in regulatory bodies increasing hiring of finance professionals.
We anticipate a drive in the housing sector to get more value for money. Finance candidates will need to clearly demonstrate this to potential employers. Management accountants will continue to be in constant demand as housing associations aim to keep tight control on budgets and forecasts. Seasonal fluctuations will predictably occur around half and full year-end.
With many housing associations not having extra staffing capacity, this will probably lead to high interim demand. The G15 and other larger national associations will continue to recruit finance staff at transactional and middle-management level.
We saw an increase in interim and temporary recruitment within the NHS. We found that the primary reason for the increase was due to the cuts at management level – an unsurprising development in light of ‘an aim for £15 billion in efficiency savings’.
The subsequent knowledge gaps across NHS Trusts and hospitals have in turn increased demand for interim cover to bridge these gaps. Financial skill sets that were particularly sought after during the last year include financial planning and analysis and financial modelling to accurately monitor long-term costing and expenditure of a ‘moving feast’ in many situations. Candidates with these skills were able to command significant increases in their rates as they were in constant demand and still are today.
Management accountants with pricing and costing experience were also highly sought after as budget management was of particular importance within the NHS. Technical financial accountants were also very much in demand. Furthermore, as the NHS sought to improve efficiencies through improving financial systems, finance professionals with ERP systems experience were also sought after – Oracle the most frequently requested by hiring managers.
As the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG’s) and Commissioning Support Units (CSU’s) continue to evolve, finance professionals with specific experience in these areas will be in demand.
2014 looks set to be a busy year for interim and contract recruitment in the NHS. Cuts to permanent staffing budgets set to continue until at least 2015, will increase the competition for specialist temporary staff with NHS Trust, CSU or CCG experience.
Public sector saw some tough times in 2013, with further cuts and a further decline in jobs. In contrast to this, the NHS, education and the charity sectors have held up better and have seen a demand for finance professionals. however, with these cuts we can expect to see a demand in finance professionals with the capabilities to ensure organisations see ‘bang for buck’ across the board.