Accountancy and Finance Competences in the Treasury:
Learning from Experience
Accountancy and finance (A&F) was selected as one of 8 core
competences as part of a development programme for the Treasury
in 1996. As with the other competences, 5 skill levels were defined.
All staff were asked to define the competence level for their job
and their own level in preparation for the 1997/8 reporting year.
A skills gap was then to be identified as the basis for individual
development plans. Training was to be provided as necessary, with
testing or external accreditation for each stage. Promotion and
level transfers to certain posts were to be linked in due course
to possession of specified competence levels.
2. What happened
Some elements of the A&F framework were put into place as planned.
The training necessary for level 1 (2 days) and 2 (6 days) was commissioned
from an outside provider and the take-up has been good. It was established
that by the end of 1997, over 150 people had been trained for level
1 with another 50 saying they already had this level. The figures
for level 2 were over 120 trained, 20 booked to train and 20 saying
they already had this level. For the other levels, very few people
required level 3 and this was therefore seen as needing to be tailor-made
to individuals, while 4 and 5 were defined in terms of professional
competence and therefore assessable externally.
A number of decisions were taken which reflected the specific needs
and circumstances of the Treasury. First, following requests from
those who had completed level 2, an additional level (2a) was devised
as a way of giving additional practice in the theory of level 2.
Second, a decision was taken also at an early stage that because
of the very specialist nature of training for resource accounting
and budgeting (RAB), this was to be separate from general A&F
training. Specific RAB courses were therefore run for individual
parts of the Treasury. Finally, the links to NVQs were recognised
to be limited for the department because of the difficulty of providing
practical application in most posts.
Some elements of the framework proved more difficult to carry into
practice. There was not a full set of information on competence
levels, despite prompts after the deadline. A sample of "non-definers"
was contacted early in 1998. Among the reasons given were
- difficulties of postholders in defining the competence
levels for their posts and existing abilities
- unwillingness to send in details for competences not judged appropriate
for the post
- new entrants who had not been asked for information
- returns sent in which were claimed not to be registered
as well as some posts registered as filled but which had been abolished.
These reasons indicate that support is needed to help identify competence
levels and that a follow-up mechanism is necessary if a comprehensive
and up-to-date list is to be maintained.
On the training side:
- course provision had in part to be responsive to requests, rather
than being planned systematically, because there was not a full
set of returns
- not all those who had taken the course had taken the associated
3. Incentives and barriers
Incentives need to be strong enough to obtain the information on
competence levels for posts or individuals or the gaps in information
mean that a
"skills gap" cannot be identified or training provision
The understandable and familiar "No time!" is one reason
given for the lack of information. But while this merely manifests
a low priority given to the activity, there is some evidence that
lack of experience on how to assess levels for the post and the
individual and how the individual will assess their current skill
level are barriers. These difficulties apply both to the department
and the individual. There may also be some concern about having
to undertake training - and tests - once levels are defined.
Some of the above issues have arisen because Accountancy and Finance
competences were introduced at a very early stage of the training
framework. Others are almost certainly transitional. As examples:
- when a job has been assessed for its competence level it should
not have to be reviewed very often.
- it will be easier to encourage all aspects of competences when
it is clearer that having competences is linked to a new post.
- there has to have been adequate opportunity for training
- faith in the testing mechanism has to be earned.
Timing is a problem in another way. With Treasury
postings of , typically, 3 years, the lag between appointment to
a post and competence training for the post may be too long for
the organisation and postholder to benefit fully before moving on.
4. Suggested solutions
To meet the generic problem of asymmetry between the costs and the
benefits - if individuals are not trained, it is not only they that
will suffer, but the department - individual choice should not be
the only element which determines the pattern and amount of departmental
training. Recognising that departments are at different stages in
implementing their IIP programmes, the suggestions below (in italics)
are intended to help incorporate the necessary incentives to meet
the department's needs and help remedy any problems. Almost all
would apply to all competences.
a. To make progress in parts of the organisation which have most
need for A & F (transitional problem)
- The PFO should determine the focus on relevant teams
b. To clarify what level an individual has already attained
- Help the individual with structured self-assessment,
supplemented if necessary by specialist advice and/or help from
c. To clarify what competence level is appropriate to the post
- Involve (as appropriate) users, specialists and/or
external assessment in doing so
- Make it part of the team-leader's job to ensure the competence
levels are assessed
- Set feasible published deadlines for the assessment timetable
in conjunction with directorates and publish league tables of posts
assessed against targets
d. To reinforce training experience
- Use the annual appraisal report to follow-up on training
e. To reinforce the incentives for a-d above
- Include milestones in team, team leader and individual
objectives for 1998/9. Review against performance as part of the
normal appraisal round.
- Have someone in the department with competence follow-through
as part of a job description
- Monitor and publicise cases of how training has helped individuals
f. Increase the incentives to train
- Personnel to review training in the light of experience
for content and delivery method (including modularity rather than
- Encourage teams to ensure that cover is provided as a matter of
routine during extended training periods.
g. To remedy any problems arising from the lag between taking up
a post and taking the relevant competence training
- Exert pressure from line manager for early training
- Carry through policy that appointments should normally be of those
who already have relevant competences (long term)
h. To counter any claim that there is no time to train
- Give clear message on rules of the game from the top
- Senior management set a good example in defining, and letting
it be known they have defined, their own training needs
- Carry through incentive of link to promotion (long term)
i. To increase the proportion of those taking tests before the promotion
and transfer requirements take effect
- Find the reasons for delay
- Reduce exam concerns by eg providing sample papers, revision classes
j. To recognise the 3 constantly moving elements of the database
(individuals in the department, attained competence levels of each
- Operate central database with means, including authority,
to seek information
5. Further information
Please contact Kevin Ross, Finance Training Network Co-ordinator,
Development of Accountancy Resource team, HM Treasury, 19 Allington
Street, London SW1E 5EB.
Tel: 0171 270 1747 (GTN 270 1747)
Fax: 0171 270 1744 (GTN 270 1744)