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Become a non-executive director in the public sector

4 January 2021: ICAEW is running a webinar series on the important role non-executive directors play in the public sector and how chartered accountants can add valuable insight and gain rewarding experience via such roles.

ICAEW’s Public Sector team is running a series of six webinars about the role of non-executive directors (NEDs) in the public sector. Three webinars have already been broadcast and are available to watch on-demand, with a further three planned for the new year.

In our first webinar on 24 September, we gained a better understanding of the process for applying to be a NED in the public sector, a process that is owned by different parts of government.

Lauren Murdoch from the Scottish Government’s Public Appointments Team recommended looking closely at the role description and criteria and applying for roles which best suit your experience and skills.

This is good advice for any job application and something to think about when looking at your first role as a NED. Quite often people don’t quite know where to start and she encourages applications “from people of all ages and particularly applications from people 49 and under. Applicants need to be able to demonstrate how their skills and experience meet those set out in the applicant information pack”. 

Available Scottish public appointments can be found here.

The process for applying and any subsequent selection for appointment can seem to take a long time. However, “on average the process from the time a vacancy closes to a person being notified of being successfully appointed is 10 weeks.” says Murdoch. 

Her top tips for a successful application are to “read the applicant information pack very carefully. Think about how you have done things rather than what your role title was/is and look outside subject sectors than your current one – your skills might be sought in lots of different sectors.”

We also heard from Janice Crerar, who is responsible for officeholder services for the Scottish Parliament. She noted that sometimes there could be a potential conflict of interest but in its information pack the Scottish Parliament “advises applicants if certain individuals are disqualified from applying but generally this is to avoid conflicts of interest or where legislation prescribes certain categories of individuals who are disqualified such as an MP/MSP.” 

Crerar also suggests that a role with a charity might be a good place to start and gain board experience, noting, “If you are a qualified accountant, your skillset is desirable to public bodies.”

She encouraged people to apply for roles and recommended speaking to the body looking for the candidate. “Public appointments are open to all. If you have never applied for a public appointment it is worth speaking to the named contact in the recruitment pack to ask for some advice about the process. If you are initially not successful, ask for feedback. This can be invaluable.”

You can find out more about Scottish parliamentary appointments here.

Finally, we heard from Louise Greenrod, Deputy Director, Public Appointments Policy Team at the Cabinet Office. She stressed the importance of having as diverse a board as possible to have effective governance, a message also emphasised by Julia Lopez, Minister at the Cabinet Office. By having a wide range of backgrounds and skills boards and the public bodies they oversee can gain so much.

There are many national public sector NED appointments available and you can find out more here, while you can listen to the full webinar on-demand here.

If you are interested in applying to be a NED in the public sector you should also listen to the other webinars in the series, including the perspective of a central government chief executive and an existing NED in Part II and insights from the Comptroller & Auditor General Gareth Davies on corporate governance and non-executives in the public sector in Part III.

Alison Ring, director for public sector at ICAEW, adds: “It has been fascinating to hear about the broad range of public appointments available and the relevance of a chartered accountant’s skills to many of these roles and I am looking to learning more in the webinars to come.

“I hope that many of our members will think seriously about applying for NED roles in the public sector. Not only is this an opportunity to give something back, but there is a lot to gain from the experience.”


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