Global warning

19 Dec 11
Alan Edwards

Putting the gloom of the Autumn Statement behind him, CIPFA’s international director set off to Washington to take CIPFA’s Fixing the Foundations campaign to the next level

A short while ago, I was invited to speak at a conference run by the International Consortium on Governmental Financial Management. They run two big events a year, Miami in May, Washington DC in December. Just my luck that they want me for DC. So leaving the gloom of our Autumn Statement and doom of the eurozone behind, I set off for the grey skies of Washington.

The conference is in the International Monetary Fund building and I also have three meetings at the World Bank. The bus driver says it sounds like I am trying to solve the sovereign debt crisis all on my own. In one sense, I feel CIPFA is, with our Fixing the Foundations campaign. We are not offering a short-term fix and I don’t expect us to appear daily on the BBC but getting more professionally trained finance staff in government departments around the world is part of the long-term solution.

My presentation is about taking the campaign to the next level by building a global public financial management profession. The key building blocks are:

- global standards
- global PFM qualifications
- a global approach to PFM capacity-building

There is no easy route to professionalisation. We know from our wide experience around the world how challenging it is to get training programmes off the ground. Equally, once they are running, keeping them going is a constant battle. This is why it is critical that we develop a smart approach that galvanises support and commits for a concerted period to secure a real step-change.

The increasing pressure to embrace International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) makes a global approach to qualifications and growing professional capacity more sustainable than ever before. It also means we can now get scale advantages across countries and use new technology for training. Everyone I speak to in Washington asks me about how they can sign up for this programme in their country. This means the provision of tuition and examinations on line.

All of these changes need investment and global delivery arrangements. That is why CIPFA needs partners to come forward and help us build this global PFM profession.

The International Consortium on Governmental Financial Management was set up by the IMF and World Bank and others some 40 years ago – which just goes to show how hard it can be to improve PFM. But that mustn’t deter us as the benefits are critically important for future financial prosperity and security. In the current unprecedented times, we need to recognise that better PFM can significantly influence sovereign debt risk. In that sense it links directly to confidence and financial stability – two commodities that are in pretty short supply just now.

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