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July 26, 2009

Latham interview: Regaining trust

Trust is one of the key themes the new UK Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy president, Roger Latham, is focusing on. He speaks with Carolyn Canham about this theme and also how important it is to care for the team.

Roger Latham is a veteran of public finance and operations. His first experience in the public sector was when he joined local government in 1976, taking an economist job in the West Midlands.

In early 1990 he moved to Nottinghamshire to become deputy county treasurer. Within a year he became treasurer and remained in that position until 2002 when he was appointed chief executive, a role he maintained until retirement last year.

The new Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) president also has a great deal of experience in the governance of the professional body, having served on the council since 2000.

Deeply seeded

Taking on the presidency late last month, Latham picked trust as one of his key themes. While the theme is timely considering the battering trust in organisations and public figures has taken through both the financial crisis and an expenses scandal among UK MPs, Latham says the theme is seeded much deeper than current events. There are three issues relevant to the theme.

“The first is that organisations that are built around the traditional model of command and control, the very hierarchical model with lots of performance indicators and performance targets, fail to take significant account of things that really motivate people,” Latham says.

More important is the way organisations function through relationships.

“If you are building on relationships then the basic underpinning of relationships is trust. It is what has been described as networks of trust and they are always there in organisations, but I believe in building on those networks,” he says.

The second point is the current economic crisis and difficulties surrounding that.

“There is a failure of trust – a failure of trust of depositors in banks, a failure of trust between banks themselves and a failure of trust in governments to properly control and regulate the over exuberant markets,” Latham says.

“Therefore, while all the technical things need to be done in order to restore economies and develop and grow, building and rebuilding trust in key economic and political institutions is an absolutely central point as well.”

The third point involves countering the growth of a managerialist culture.

Managerialist culture does not facilitate a particularly strong vision of how things ought to be, it simply says that whatever it is, we must manage it effectively, Latham explains. He says this has spread both into professional areas and into politics.

“[Managerialist culture] doesn’t have a substantial basis of knowledge or basis of belief, which constitute those relationships of trust, which are essential,” he says.

Another theme that personally interests Latham is the importance of taking care of the team. This again relates to organisational relationships.

“It is going to be a very tough time in the public sector over the next few years,” he says.

“When organisations are under stress and individuals are under stress it is important for people in leadership or senior positions to look after themselves and to look after their team’s health and well-being, and not just have regard for that but to do things actively in order to develop that.

“It isn’t self-indulgent, it is good management to look after yourself and look after your people.

“There are too many examples of over stressed people doing things which really damage organisations and damaging others and we need to avoid that.”

When Latham took over the CIPFA presidency late last month, he also launched the new CIPFA manifesto, Better Ideas, Better Public Services. He explains the manifesto attempts to highlight a number of issues the institute has identified as significant and thinks the government should pay attention to.

“They are about effective financial management,” he explains. “Given the fact that any government that comes into power will face a very difficult situation both in the public sector and in the wider economy, we felt that these were issues worth putting on the table – saying to any government ‘you need to pay regard to these’.”

Trust, again, was one central themes of the manifesto.

“The need to restore trust was very critical in that, but equally was an understanding that if you really wanted to effect some significant change then there had to be more delegation to the people on the front line to make decisions and act effectively to make efficiencies,” Latham says.

“Equally there needs to be a proper transparent approach to policy making and assessment of policies.”

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