Giving certainty in an uncertain world

By Tracie Langley | 09 September 2020

I don’t know about you, but as I write this I am suffering from ‘back from leave’ brain – which would be OK if it wasn’t for everyone else suffering from the same. This week has been one of re-assessing the issues I was worried about, and making sure no new issues have cropped up through August.

Thankfully, the ‘Daddy Dragon’ risks are the same ones I had before and there are no new ones, which is a relief. So, I am back to thinking about how to resolve the Daddy Dragons – the biggest of which is how we do financial planning in a period of huge uncertainty and trying to second guess what the Government Spending Review is going to reveal.

As finance directors, we have become pretty adept at working out what the Government is planning to do, which allows us to make reasonable estimates for planning purposes. This is the first year I have never been able to make even a reasonable estimate of likely income in the following year.

This has two impacts on me: first, it makes it impossible to give members certainty and they, in turn, are unable to talk to their groups with any measure of leadership, which makes me feel I haven’t done my job properly. Second, I am unable to give any certainty to my colleagues in the leadership team about impacts at a time when they are looking to me to provide certainty. That also makes me feel I am not doing my job properly.

How do we as finance directors give certainty in an uncertain world? My approach has been to simplify each of the issues we have, splitting what is complex into bite-size chunks and presenting the issues as individual issues in a bundle which are linked, but separate. Presenting in this way means resolutions – which are also complex – can be split down into a menu of different solutions which can be linked to each of the issues. Simple!

Tracie Langley is chief operating officer at Cornwall Council

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