Figures in Public Finance – a conversation with rising star Naeem Ahmed


21 May 2020

Figures in Public Finance – a conversation with rising star Naeem Ahmed

Az Ahmed, Consultant in our CIPFA-Penna team, explores routes and career trajectories into Public Finance, through the prism of conversation. In this piece, the first of two, he interviews Naeem Ahmed – Head of Finance (Children, Adults and Community Health) at the London Borough of Hackney - to find out what life is like in this important public sector position.

Everyone’s journey into the world of public sector finance is different. It’s interesting therefore to understand what attracts people to accountancy, particularly within  local authorities. 

Good public sector finance professionals arevital to the successful running of any organisation, but particularly in a sector which has over the past decade become more scrutinised than ever before.

For some, the lure of local authority finance is not immediately obvious. But speaking to Naeem Ahmed – Head of Finance (Children, Adults & Community Health) at Hackney the appeal becomes clearer.

Az Ahmed: I suppose the initial question which comes to mind is what attracted you to finance in the first place?

Naeem Ahmed: “To be honest my mum is an accountant. When I was young, I used to see her physically doing double entry bookkeeping into a ledger. She would explain to me how it worked and try to explain debits and credits to me using apples! I was probably eight at the time, so you could say finance has always been in my blood.” 

AA: Sounds like you were always destined to work in Finance! What drew you to the public sector?

NA: “I’ve always been intrigued about the role of finance and society.

I studied Politics and Economics at University and was really interested in the stewardship and management of public sector funds. One of the modules was around the political British political system. I was really keen to understand relationship between central government through to local authority and also the NHS. My interest started to peak a bit more and I started to familiarize myself with various aspects of finance all the way through to things like the electoral system and that led me to a career in the public sector.” 

AA: So after gaining your degree you applied for the CIPFA graduate scheme?  

NA: “I was actually on the CIPFA graduate scheme for only 6 months I was quickly offered a permanent role. I'm a massive advocate of the scheme. It's a good opportunity to gain skills in a lot of different areas and then work out what you want to focus on.

I did think ‘I'm going to complete the programme and this is the role I want to do’ and because that role became available at that time – I didn’t hesitate to accept it.”

AA: You're quite fortunate in a sense after only 6 months to be offered a role. That’s quite rare. Now that you’re experienced, looking back, what’s surprised you most about working at a local authority?

NA: “The kindness of staff. I came straight into local government from university and I’ve always felt supported - everybody was willing to go the extra mile to help.

In the public sector as a whole, to be honest with you, people are so willing to give their time and resources to help staff develop. The benefit to the authority is that it creates a bit more organizational resilience and people are able to rise up through the ranks. 

Also even though we are a back office function we think about how we can drive transformation and for me that’s improving the lives of residents.”

AA: The ethos of the public sector and its desire to support staff has drawn you to local authorities. On the point of social care what attracted you to this particular area?

NA: “I was really interested in adult social care from the outset on the graduate scheme. It just seemed like a natural fit for me very early on … seeing how we supported the vulnerable and elderly residents. 

Adult Social Care has the biggest budget pressure at any council directorate. It was just really intriguing, there was so much scrutiny because the cost of one additional placement is very high and has significant financial implications. Though the cost side of things drove my interest, it then developed from that point. I started to look at areas, such as early intervention and prevention in terms of the offer from the council and how they could be improved. What are we doing at an early stage to maximise our budget?”

AA: You’re really passionate about this subject area. Over the years have you worked with someone who has a similar passion perhaps someone who you look up to? 

NA: “I’ve been lucky I’ve worked with some great professionals and learnt many different skills. I’d have to say Ian (Williams). I'd done some research on him in advance of joining and saw that he reached a very senior level at a very young age.” 

Want to hear more?

Please look out for the second part of my interview with Naeem Ahmed, which will be published next week. 

If you would like to talk to Penna about your Finance recruitment challenges, please get in touch.

Az Ahmed

Consultant, CIPFA-Penna

07717 810 481