James Kidd, Chief Accountant, Hertfordshire Constabulary
James Kidd joined Hertfordshire Constabulary as chief accountant in March 2020, just before the UK’s first COVID-19 lockdown began – a challenging start to his new role. His position involves overseeing financial and management accounting for the organisation, from the standard of the statement of accounts and budget to monthly monitoring and forecasting, managing a team of around 15 people.
James began his finance career as a financial graduate trainee at Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) in 2014, where he gained his CIPFA qualification before progressing to become senior accountant for the council’s pension fund in 2017. Here, James was responsible for managing the fund’s investments – totalling nearly £5bn – and overseeing its investment management team. His role included producing the pension fund’s annual report and statement of accounts, as well as writing and presenting reports for the pensions committee and pensions board. He also managed relationships with employer participants. After two years, seeking broader experience of a different sector, James successfully applied for his current role at Hertfordshire Constabulary.
Before moving into finance, James spent four years as a project manager for the charity Carers in Bedfordshire, which provides unpaid family carers with help, support, advocacy and training. He joined Carers in Bedfordshire after graduating from the University of Sheffield with a degree in Economics.
What led you to become a CIPFA member?
I've always been interested in finance and the public sector. While working with the charity Carers in Bedfordshire, I saw the job opportunity for the graduate trainee position at Hertfordshire County Council. My mum also works in social work, so the public sector ethos is something that's quite ingrained in me and that I've always been keen on. Even while I was at the charity, I’d heard great things about CIPFA and the qualification, as well as the networking opportunities that it provides.
When did you first become attracted to a career in the public sector, particularly public finance?
My ethos is more public sector minded, I suppose – looking to help people and make a difference. I started working with the charity Carers in Bedfordshire, which my auntie founded. It was just so rewarding to see the work that you do having an effect on people in that situation – family caregivers, who give so much, not only to their loved ones but also to the economy, with little official acknowledgement of the important role they play. You can see just how much a little bit of support can help. That was my first step. I then wanted to broaden my horizons and experience other work that the public sector carries out.
What have been the highlights or biggest successes of your career to date? Are there any particular standout, pivotal moments?
The one that stands out is when I took over as a senior accountant for the pension fund – my first role after qualifying. It’s a big role – I was responsible for billions of pounds. It was fascinating, in terms of the world of investments and how that interacts with and operates in the context of public sector workers’ pensions. My first big achievement involved closing the accounts in my first year in that role after my manager left in March, just before the end of the financial year. I’d started the job midway through the year, so I hadn’t previously had a chance to experience the accounts being produced. I was left to close the accounts with the pension fund by myself, which was a bit scary. However, it stands out because I did make it through and pulled it out of the bag.
What have been the greatest challenges, both during your career and within the public finance sector?
Management. When I first became a manager, it was a steep learning curve – it's something you have to learn through experience and working with different types of people, some who don’t require much management and others who do. Unfortunately, in my first management role, I did have a couple of tricky situations that I had to work through. That was really a baptism of fire into the world of management, but in a positive way, that experience set me up to be better equipped to face such challenges, be able to deal with them, and to pass some of those lessons on to my teams too.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the public sector?
Working alongside some of the frontline workers such as social workers, care workers and police officers has been so educational, seeing these people dedicate their lives to helping those in need and seeing the passion that they have for their jobs. Although working in the public sector can be challenging, and sometimes working in finance feels a bit removed from the work they carry out, I really thrive on knowing that I have enabled our frontline heroes to carry on supporting those less fortunate.
How has being a CIPFA member supported you in your career so far?
Obviously, training has been crucial – learning the ropes of public finance – but alongside that, networking and going to CIPFA events, whether that’s training, the conference or other events, has been incredibly useful. I’ve gained some fantastic contacts through them, which has really helped at various stages of my career when I’ve needed to bounce ideas off people.
Support from peers has been important too. I’m part of the South East CIPFA Student Network, and again, whenever I’ve found a problem – whether a technical or management issue – the ability to discuss it with peers has been very valuable.
CIPFA provides an excellent opportunity to get the broad range of support and advice that you need in many areas. I think it’s fantastic, so I’d definitely recommend it.
What advice would you give to people who are beginning their career in public finance?
Speak to as many people as you can, regardless of rank – and that applies both upwards and downwards. When I started, I was quite shy and reserved and maybe didn't want to rock the boat. However, as I progressed, I decided to go for it and ask for advice when I needed to. Most of the time, regardless of seniority, people are happy to help – even if it’s just half an hour to spare over a coffee. It may be that you never speak to them again, but you might get a bit of valuable advice from them. That’s really helped me in my career.
It’s also just as important, when you’re speaking to a colleague who is less senior than you, to make sure you give them time as well. If you don’t, then they won't feel valued – and at the end of the day, they are just as important as the people above you.
What book, film or podcast would you recommend to anyone working in public finance?
I’m going to say CIPFA Speaks! – that’s been a great addition. Another one that I’ve really enjoyed is the David McWilliams podcast, which is about economics – something I’ve always had an interest in. It’s wide ranging, from investments and entrepreneurs or small business owners, right across to the public sector and how it all comes together.
One book I think has more value for students, perhaps, is The Economics of Happiness by Mark Anielski. It explores a really interesting area, looking at our measures of economic progress and how they relate to happiness. Alongside that, on a lighter note, is Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner – I really enjoyed that.