What's going on in Northern Ireland
Written by Dean Russell
The Public Finance Live NI conference took place in the Hilton Hotel Belfast in late October 2023 and was attended by over 100 people. Once again, the conference was expertly chaired by local journalist and broadcaster William Crawley and, there were a number of exhibiting sponsors, namely MCS Group, CCLA, RSPB and the NI Audit Office.
Sir Mark Lowcock, CIPFA Junior Vice-President, set the global scene for delegates as he talked about the main global forces at work today – geopolitics, global economics, technology and climate change.
The keynote address was given by Professor Sir John Curtice, Professor of Practice Politics at the University of Strathclyde and frequent contributor to TV discussions about the polling fortunes of the major political parties in the UK. He clearly stated that the Conservative Party is in a deep electoral hole based on the latest polling data and recent trends but, that the Labour Party’s appeal is not without a number of challenges. The biggest challenges for the current government in getting re-elected, he said, lie in the public’s generally negative perceptions of political leadership, the economy and public services.
Gareth Hetherington, Director of the Ulster University’s Economic Policy Centre, reminded delegates that Northern Ireland has the highest percentage level of economic inactivity in the UK and that there are now much fewer people of working age due to demographic changes.
Dr Eleanor Roy, Health and Social Care Policy Manager at CIPFA, spoke about the preventative benefits of investing in health in light of the fact that the need for healthcare is forecast to rise nine times faster than the revenue to fund it. She suggested that more funding should be directed towards upstream services rather than downstream, acute services. In her view, this will require finance professionals to persuade politicians to make better, longer-term decisions.
In one of the optional seminars, Joanne Pitt, Local Government Policy Manager at CIPFA, spoke about the importance of both good decision-making and financial management as a means of providing strong governance. Similarly to Dr Roy, Joanne said that finance professionals need to do all that they can to help decision-makers to make good decisions through the effective presentation of financial information and advising on financial resilience.
Elma Murray, Chair of Young Scot and Deputy Chair of Developing the Young Workforce, spoke about leadership during austerity and uncertain times. She said that leadership is about social influence, maximising the effort of others, challenging the status quo and putting yourself in others’ shoes. With regard to stewardship, she said that this is essentially about looking after your team’s interests.
Grainia Long, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, spoke about the current landscape for the provision of public services such as social housing. In her passionate talk, she said that we under-estimate what we can achieve in the long term but over-estimate what we can achieve in the short term. Turning to the idea of perma-crisis, she went on to say that, whilst macro and micro-crises give organisations opportunities to do things differently, we need to distinguish between different sets of problems and fully understand them before we can try to solve them or ease them.
As I write this reflection on the PF Live NI Conference, I remain thankful for the opportunities that I and many others had to listen to such an interesting range of speakers; to network with a range of delegates from many different organisations; and, to get away from the laptop to consider the bigger picture as a public finance professional. I would encourage all CIPFA members in NI to make plans to attend the 2024 conference if they can and to invite others to join you. The details will be publicised on the CIPFA website in due course.
The CIPFA President Caroline Rassell made a visit to Belfast on October 6 and during the course of her visit, she met with Dorinnia Carville, Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) for Northern Ireland, and Rodney Allen, Chief Operating Officer for the Northern Ireland Audit Office, at the NIAO’s HQ. Mark McBride from the CIPFA NI Branch Committee is also pictured.
The CIPFA President met some CIPFA staff based in Northern Ireland, including Sharon Hetherington, Director of Finance in the Department for the Economy.
The CIPFA President, who is CEO of the charity Parkinson’s UK, was hosted by the city’s First Citizen, the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Ryan Murphy, in Belfast City Hall. She also made time to have lunch with CIPFA NI Branch Committee members.
Steve Mungavin, Chair of the NI Branch, attended the CIPFA Regional Forum in Bournemouth on October 18 and 19 where he met with the CIPFA President, Caroline Rassell, and the Chairs/Presidents of the South West, South East, North West, North East, Midlands and Wales Regions.
Webchat is available Monday to Friday, 09:00 - 17:00 (excluding UK bank holidays).