Magazine article Public Finance

Can-Do Keegan

Magazine article Public Finance

Can-Do Keegan

Article excerpt

Mary Keegan would be one of the first to admit that she likes to get things done. Conceding that she expects a lot from her staff', she says some describe her approach as 'feisty'.

It's an attribute that might come in handy in the coming months as she pushes ahead with plans to change the approach to financial management across Whitehall.

It is six months since she became managing director of financial management, reporting and audit at the Treasury. At the time of her appointment, permanent secretary Gus O'Donnell said the department had recruited one of the most talented, influential and experienced people in UK finance to drive forward financial management and reporting in government'.

She has been described recently as Tony Blair's finance director, but it is a description she brushes aside as 'not strictly true', adding: 'Really, Chancellor Gordon Brown is Tony Blair's finance director.'

Keegan says she has a number of roles and, in the Treasury as a department, she does indeed act as finance director.

However, her real day job is more wide-ranging. 'My cross-government roles are the really critical ones. I sit on the Treasury board with a particular responsibility across government to improve financial management and I am also head of the Government Accountancy Service (with an unfortunate acronym of hotgas).'

The nitty-gritty of it all is that Keegan is responsible for bringing Whitehall's financial practices into the twenty-first century. It is a process started by her predecessor, Sir Andrew Likierman, when he introduced resource accounting into government more than six years ago.

As Keegan explains: 'There has been a big push in the past five to six years to improve financial management in government. Sir Andrew Likierman introduced resource accounting and, two to three years ago, that moved into resource budgeting. That means we are now budgeting and accounting in government on a basis that is pretty similar to the private sector.'

Keegan is charged with pushing ahead with phase two, to improve decision-making across government, using financial data. 'It is about using all the techniques you would normally expect in the private sector, in terms of planning, using financial modelling, budgeting on a resource basis, in-year monitoring of spend and forecasting,' she says. 'It has always been there, but we are looking in a much more structured way to ensure that input resources are geared to achieving outputs.'

While she has been impressed with the quality of staff and the pace of change in Whitehall, Keegan is realistic about what needs to be done. 'We need to get management information on a more timely basis in departments, so we need system improvements, then we can get data faster.

'And we need to strengthen financial capacity in some departments - not just qualified finance directors, but accountants with good management accounting skills, project management and project finance experience.'

Keegan is the first to admit that it is a very wide brief. Her influence is clearly being felt across Whitehall. 'Really, my job is about change management. There are all sorts of people across departments who are already creating the change and my job is to be the catalyst to encourage that,' she says.

'To look at where we have best practice happening and where we can share that - and where people are perhaps falling behind on the pace of change, we would like to encourage improvement. …

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