Broaden your horizons: accounting in the public sector

Keely Lockhart spoke to David Barnett about his experience studying for his ACA qualification from ICAEW and his work in HM Treasury

How did you come to study the ACA?

I started the ACA when I joined HM Treasury as part of the government's Financial Management Development Scheme in 2012. I originally hadn't considered accountancy but the fact I could get a professional qualification at the same time as earning money and gaining some practical experience really appealed to me.

What are you working on now?

Up until recently I was working in the Whole of Government Accounts department. I was part of a team whose responsibility it is to consolidate the actual audited financial statements of all of the public sector entities as defined by the ONS, and generate a proper accounting picture of the public sector financial position.

The aim is to make it comparable with the standards that you see for publicly-listed companies. The task is huge - between two and three thousand entities overall which need to be consolidated. It's very interesting work though!

Right now, I'm on a 12-month secondment to the Efficiencies Reform Group, helping the government become more efficient by identifying areas where they could improve operations. While my previous role required more audit skills, this is more about account management and business.

How have you found studying while working?

I've found the ACA very flexible. For example, when I was in the Whole of Government Accounts, the work was very seasonal, and between November and January I would be working long hours. During those times it was very hard for me to get away for long periods of study or exams, so it helped that I was able to pick from a range of exam dates to suit my work schedule.

I've also been able to choose how I want to learn. For example, I prefer to go on day release where I can alternate my work and study days. But some people who prefer more concentrated periods of study can choose to do weekend courses.

What is it about accounting in the public sector that appeals to you?

For me it's very important that I get some kind of satisfaction from what I'm doing. Working here, in the future I can really see myself driving efficiencies which will help public money to be spent better.

There are also some exciting opportunities working in the public sector. One of my personal ambitions is to work internationally, somewhere like the International Monetary Fund, or even the European Court of Justice. You could also go and work for the UK Space Agency, which is part of the department for Business Innovation and Skills, for example. A colleague of mine even went to work for Imperial College London.

I definitely wouldn't dismiss the private sector, but it's worth recognising it's not the only way to get into accountancy, finance, and business.

Further reading

Read part 1 of the this article to find out about the benefits of the ACA qualification.