2023 Winners

We are delighted to announce the winners of the Public Finance Awards 2023 brought to you by CIPFA and Public Finance. The winners, drawn from across the sector and representing all parts of the UK, demonstrate the remarkable dedication and inventiveness of those working to deliver excellence in governance and financial management throughout the public sector.

Congratulations to all 2023 winners.

To view the pictures taken from the 2023 Public Finance Awards please click here

Winner: Social Value Through Procurement, Essex County Council

The need to achieve net zero targets is critical for everyone, and public sector organisations have the opportunity to drive innovation.

The social value procurement team at Essex County Council is doing that by using its buying power to drive change that will improve the environment and the lives in its community.

The council’s procurement function manages £1.2bn third party spend a year with more than 300 contracts (total value: £6.7bn) covering goods, works and services, and more than 400 suppliers. Contracts range from building and infrastructure, transport services, technology and digital to caring for the most vulnerable with adult and children’s services.

The team has transformed its approach to procurement and social value from compliance to a corporate priority, engaging all staff, vendors and regional stakeholders to create a movement for social value in Essex.

The starting point was to go beyond the minimum requirements and ensure that social value opportunities were amplified to maximise every pound spent.

One challenge came when creating the team due to a very limited pool of candidates with both knowledge of the public contracts regulations and social value implementation options.

This entailed winning the hearts and minds of all audiences, including political leaders, directors, commissioners, bidders and SMEs, to convince them the objective was not a ‘nice to have’.

Contract changes mean the authority now includes social value in all tenders over £100,000 across the commissioning and procurement cycle from concept and service design, sourcing, delivery and through to contract management.

A reporting tool gives sight of commitments, both in monetary terms but more importantly in real terms such as community projects and wellbeing outcomes.

The results are already clear. The team have implemented a reporting mechanism to track results that show over £82m of social value committed and £38m of social value delivered, all of which is aligned to the corporate outcomes benefiting Essex citizens and communities.

Outcomes include the rehabilitation of offenders, and against £515,798 committed to invest in initiatives to engage people in all types of health interventions, including mental health, £449,283 has been delivered.

Social value is now embedded into business-as-usual practices and subject to ongoing reviews to ensure that the practice remains fit for purpose.

The judges said: “Essex County Council’s submission was notable in taking a strategic approach to sustainability and social value. The judges were particularly impressed by the way it involved the public in informing the approach, getting suppliers on board, and building a collaborative approach across public sector and other organisations in the area to adopt a similar approach.”

Winner: Departmental Planning and Performance Team, Department for Work and Pensions

Whitehall departments are under pressure to deliver, and evidencing performance is central to showing clear results.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is responsible for welfare, pensions and child maintenance policy. As the UK’s biggest public service department, it administers the state pension and a range of working age, disability and ill-health benefits to around 20 million claimants and customers.

Following an external review in 2021/22, the DWP was advised to change its approach to planning to develop a clearer link from strategy through to delivery, and to evolve from an approach that was mainly driven by finance, and hence risked being silo focused.

The objective was to move its approach to one that was more holistic, looking across the organisation as a whole to ensure resources were used as effectively and efficiently as possible. 

Tasked with leading the change was the Department Planning and Performance (DPP) team, which operates within the wider high-level governance framework of DWP made up of a departmental board consisting of the non-executive directors, the secretary of state and ministers, the permanent secretary and director-generals for finance and people, and a series of sub-committees.

The team developed and implemented a performance framework to measure DWP’s performance against objectives.

The team took best practice from the civil service and third sector and applied it to DWP, developing a framework aligning metrics to strategic objectives, linking them to targets and trajectories and assessing the DWP’s supporting functions to identify potential performance issues early.

Two huge changes have resulted. With process, regular evidence-based reporting to the top-of- the-office has increased the rigour of reporting across the organisation, placing a greater focus on assessing performance, understanding the reasons for under/overperformance, and ensuring data used is accurate and used consistently across the department. 

In terms of outcomes, having one high-level source of information on department performance has enabled ministers and the executive team to take strategic, joined-up decisions on where to focus resources to maximise delivery of objectives. 

The department has been able to maximise delivery during the financial year.

The framework is a step change in the DWP’s approach to planning and delivery, provided monthly to the executive team and ministers to run the department more efficiently and effectively.

The team will continue to work with high-level stakeholders to ensure coverage meets their needs, and working-level stakeholders to ensure agreed content is accurate, timely and of sufficient breadth.

The judges said: “They were challenged to change their approach to developing a clearer link from strategy to delivery, and they succeeded achieving more rigorous reporting across their organisation, assisting their leadership to making decisions to maximise efficiency.” 

Winner: Tableau Financial, London North Eastern Railway 

Getting technology transformation right is hugely challenging, but the results can deliver huge improvements to an organisation – as our winner proves.

London North Eastern Railway (LNER) operates train services and manages some stations on the East Coast Main Line between London and Inverness. Owned by a Department for Transport (DfT) holding company, it operates 1,000 services a week, employs 3,250 people and helps 21 million customers get to their destinations each year. Having clear oversight of the business is vital to effectively manage costs and service delivery.

Due to outdated systems, financial reporting was time-consuming and inefficient. Reports were often delivered up to two weeks after the end of the financial period. They were also open to errors from manual interventions. 

The Finance Business Partner (FBP) team wanted a fast, efficient, self-serve financial reporting solution that would allow budget holders and other staff to access and generate reports in a timely manner.

They also wanted to give budget-holders complete visibility on financials and the ability to drill into results to find opportunities for efficiencies and improvements.

Tableau was identified as a partner for this project, as its business intelligence software and data visualisation products were already in use effectively in the business. 

The team worked with LNER’s Data Analytics team to create a suite of dashboards using core financials alongside non financial KPIs, which would allow users to see the periodic and year-to-date results for individual directorates and LNER as a whole.

The new system has empowered stakeholders to access and view their individual areas of responsibility and easily see how well they are doing against their original budget and the latest forecast. Ultimately, this is helping to identify which areas may require more focus in a way that the old reports simply could not.

Results were immediate, such as identifying that increasing passenger compensation payments were a troubling trend. The seat guarantee scheme costs were identified, which led to a review of processes and changes that will reduce costs in the future.

Full time staffing levels – a key metric for the DfT – were found to be below forecast. This led to a new recruitment process so onboarding processes for new employees are reviewed and aligned.

The new system has also freed up the hundreds of staff hours.

The judges said: “LNER is winning on its business intelligence system, an industry first to help it tackle decision making through the use of financial and non-financial information. This innovation is having a much wider impact on the industry, clearly giving back to the sector.” 

Winner: 7 Force Commercial Services in the East of England, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Norfolk and Suffolk

The ambitious Uplift recruitment initiative and evolving nature of policing needs an agile response to ensure the frontline can be effective.

A multi-force partnership involving the forces of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Norfolk and Suffolk is doing just that.

The 7 Force Commercial Services partnership is a shared procurement function to enable the forces to obtain better value for money from contracts by aggregating spend and professionalising procurement across the region. 

The combined third party spend is £270m per annum, covering a wide range of categories and needs ranging from corporate (agency staff, consultancy and so on) through to specialist operational equipment.

Also included are property – construction schemes of varying sizes and facilities services – ICT hardware, software, services and community services to support victims of crime. 

Historically, the forces had varying levels of procurement resource and expertise and three separate procurement teams. The forces needed improved procurement capability and resilience and ultimately delivery of £10m savings over four years.

The new head of procurement established a project team to develop the enablers for the new function, including process maps, templates, systems (e-tendering, contract management, spend analysis) and guidance for the team and wider stakeholders. This was overseen by a strategic governance board. Policies and procedures were harmonised and a regional procurement strategy agreed.

The pipeline of savings opportunities was agreed by the board and progress regularly reported. Category management was adopted, ensuring there were specialists in the team who understood key supplier markets and could bring that knowledge to bear when designing contracting strategies.

The results are significant: the team exceeded expectations in the business case with £6m cashable savings in its first year, progressed in 2021/22 with a further £11m cashable savings and £15m wider benefits, and £4.5m cost avoidance in 2022/23 at a time of rampant inflation. 

There’s a bigger win for the community too: sustainability is embedded in practices, with contracts delivering new jobs, apprenticeships, local supply chains, contributions to crime reduction initiatives and reduced carbon.

All members of the 7 Force team are on a development pathway, including softer skills training in negotiation, influencing and stakeholder management skills as well as developing the leadership team in sustainability at the University of Cambridge.

The judges said:Through investment in good governance, project delivery, and a focus on skills and training, 7 Force Commercial Services have demonstrated clearly the positive potential of collaboration, with tangible outcomes in terms of savings, cost avoidance, new jobs and apprenticeships, crime reduction, community initiatives, and progress towards net zero, to name just a few of their considerable achievements.”

Winner: NAO HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) Audit Team, National Audit Office

With huge pressures on public spending, the need for clarity of government accounts is crucial.

And the National Audit Office’s (NAO’s) HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) audit team has achieved just that.

The NAO is the UK’s independent public spending watchdog, helping parliament hold government to account for the way it spends public money. It audits the finances of public bodies and scrutinises public spending to evaluate value for the taxpayer. Its work is at the heart of efforts to improve public service delivery and improve people’s lives. 

The HMRC audit team comprises around 40 individuals, including accountants, value for money practitioners and IT auditors, and draws upon the expertise of data scientists, economists and fraud and error specialists.

The team delivered two highly complex financial audits, covering £731bn of tax revenues and £52bn of expenditure, including £17bn on the Covid-19 employment support schemes.

Achieving this meant meeting several significant audit challenges. Models and estimates had to be achieved by evaluating the reasonableness of 15 highly complex, multi-billion pound estimates included in the accounts covering accrued revenue, impairment of tax receivables and the future liabilities for certain tax reliefs. All were significantly impacted by uncertain economic conditions.

Another issue was fraud and error scrutiny of HMRC’s major spending programmes, including the Covid-19 support schemes and corporation tax research and development reliefs, providing a strong evidence base to support the qualified audit opinion on those areas of expenditure, and making recommendations for improvements that should be made.

Specialist inputs required careful prioritisation of audit activity, commissioning and sequencing of expert advice and the development of a jointly agreed project plan.

The team established new processes for monitoring progress and ensured timely escalation of issues and, in doing so, remained sensitive to the competing priorities.

They also created models using an ‘R’ coding platform to reperform HMRC’s estimates in totality and applying an IT and controls-based approach to the audit of the Covid-19 employment support scheme expenditure. 

The focus on analytics and controls has led to better-quality assurances and insight and made for a more efficient audit process.

And HMRC has implemented a random enquiry programme to provide a more robust estimate of the levels of fraud and error present in research and development of corporation tax reliefs.

The judges said: “The winner provided strong evidence of an innovative audit solution for a complex service in a challenging situation. The outcome provided a step change in audit approach and improvements in service delivery. Lessons learned are being used to continue to build on the new approach.”

Winner: Digital and Caseworker Team, ILF Scotland Care Schedule Portal

Ensuring personal care adapts as needs change is important for both the dignity of those being supported but also the organisations making it happen.

Developing a shared system has enabled ILF Scotland and its partners to evolve support as well as increase efficiency.

A local authority portal was developed to provide a secure collaboration space between ILF Scotland and all local authorities to reduce the time taken to approve a change to a disabled person’s care package. 

The minimum dataset is surfaced in a secure portal, with fully automated alerts to all parties and requiring just a simple click to agree. Conservatively, this has reduced the care package change time from a typical three or four months down to a matter of weeks, with potential internal savings of 2,500 hours a year, and the equivalent or more saved across all local authorities.

The solution needed to work nationally for all local authorities while meeting security, legal and data protection requirements. To be successful, it needed strong levels of adoption, so involving key partners from local authorities and the social security agency in testing was key. 

The starting point was a secure but efficient login process that would be acceptable nationally. And the core idea was using a tick-box approach that would suit everyone.

A Scotland-wide group of technology directors who liked the idea identified key contacts to help with security, and the local government digital office was brought in to agree it in principle. Once the beta version was tested, it was then demonstrated to this group, and also to the technical development team for the national care service.

The initial rollout was restricted to six local authorities for a trial period of six months so that feedback could be obtained on the concept, ease of use, security of the system and to identify any faults or challenges posed by this new way of working. 

Results include faster turnaround times for changes in care packages, a fully automated notification and chasing service freeing up staff time, a more secure approach through stringent identity verification and data minimisation and no mailroom activities reducing our carbon footprint.

The feedback has been hugely positive, and the plan is now for full national rollout across Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The ultimate aim is for the disabled person to access their care package details directly and request support or changes through this portal.

The judges said: “With a clear vision of what success looks like, the team were able to innovate and adapt to deliver clear efficiencies, and reduce waiting times for care packages from months to weeks.”

Winner: Fund Accounting and Investment Team, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Pension Fund

Explaining pensions to new employees is hard enough, but managing funds to ensure the best outcomes for members is even more challenging.

Priorities include ensuring the proper stewardship of assets, prudent management of investments and alignment with investment strategy and objectives.

There’s plenty at stake, as the fund has 76,000 active, pensioner and deferred members of the scheme and a valuation of £3.37bn.

Achieving this with almost perfect reporting while being transparent about decisions is outstanding – and that’s what the Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Pension Fund has achieved.

The core objective for any fund is to provide timely and accurate information to its stakeholders, including members and employers, about its policies, procedures and performance.

The fund has done this by engaging with its stakeholders using regular consultations and feedback mechanisms.

What sets the fund apart is how workflow has been made more effective to aid both efficiency and real-time reporting.

The team has used task management software to streamline the workflow and ensure that all team members were aware of their responsibilities. 

To minimise errors and improve efficiency, they implemented an innovative process to the accounting system by integrating the general ledger within the accounts. This helped to reduce the need for manual data entry, which in turn minimised the chances of human errors. 

Additionally, it allowed for real-time updates to be made to the accounts, ensuring that accurate financial information was always available.

The Fund aims to be accountable for its investment decisions by regularly monitoring and reviewing its investment performance, engaging with its investment managers, and reporting on its investment activities to the pension committee.

And to raise awareness, as well as publishing on the fund’s website, communication work included sharing results with the Local Government Association and presenting at multiple meetings including the pension committee, the local pension board, and council audit committees.

With scrutiny of green investments and net zero targets becoming increasingly important issues for funds, the ability to report accurately and timely is vital. The fund is well placed to do this, thanks to the innovations it has introduced.

Future work includes collaborating with the broader pension community’s successes and training to the finance team to continuously develop their skills and knowledge support them in their roles so they can further assist with year-end activities.

The judges said: “Demonstrating high technical ability and pre-planning, and commended for their high-quality working papers. A huge amount of sweat and tears has gone into achieving a very successful outcome.”

Winner: Counter Fraud Team, London Borough of Hillingdon

With budgets under pressure as never before, tackling fraud has to be a top priority and our winner has achieved some amazing results.

The Counter Fraud Team (CFT) at Hillingdon Council takes a unique proactive approach to prevention, detection and recovery. The service has implemented a risk-based approach with a multi-discipline function, focusing on loss prevention and income maximisation across areas of high risk.

Tenancy fraud has presented the most significant risk, with non-occupation and subletting of accommodation accounting for a high volume of the CFT’s work. Fictitious homelessness applications to gain accommodation is another issue.

Through service-level engagement and horizon scanning, the CFT maps out the fraud risks faced by Hillingdon Council in the form of a fraud risk register. The risk register is reviewed regularly to include emerging risks and provide a live view of the fraud landscape. This real-time approach gives the ability to deploy resources in an agile way.

Full support from the corporate management team and elected members has created an organisational wide counter fraud culture. 

In housing, the CFT has embedded mandatory verification processes across social housing, right to buy and succession applications. These verifications are led by the CFT’s intelligence gathering on behalf of service areas to verify applicants’ eligibility.

To reduce the risk of fraud in homelessness, the CFT undertook a proactive residency check project to all emergency accommodation. This project has seen officers visiting at unsociable hours to confirm residency. In total, the team has visited 478 applicants and investigated 38 cases.

The team undertook its first revenues maximisation project to identify businesses that were undeclared, or had a material change that would affect the rateable value. The project yielded positive results, with the team investigating 73 cases.

The results are outstanding, with the team achieving record financial savings of £12.3m during 2022/23 across multiple areas of fraud risk, undertaking proactive work in areas such as tenancy fraud and business rates.

Future work includes risk workshops and fraud awareness sessions to services to further strengthen the counter fraud culture and to understand new areas of fraud risk. The use of data through the pan-London fraud hub will provide improved prevention and detection of fraud.

The judges said: “A very strong nomination that showed results over and above target. The team took an holistic approach to audit, creating an organisation-wide counter fraud culture led from the top down. Their risk-based strategy secured real-time delivery and significant savings as well as being sustainable with plans for continuous improvement.”

Winner: Sam Russell, Group Finance Lead, Children’s Social Care, Manchester City Council

Children’s services are one of the critical areas for finance teams as young lives are at risk.

Yet outstanding performance is still possible – and doing it with confidence and flair is just what our worthy winner has achieved.

Sam’s story is one of rapid progress. He joined financial management in 2015 as a graduate trainee and before obtaining his full qualification, he became a senior finance manager in October 2018. He was promoted to principal finance manager in May 2021 and was offered the children’s social care finance lead a year later. It’s a significant responsibility with a gross budget of £529m and a staff of 15. 

He supports directors and councillors in developing successful financial strategies that underpin the organisation’s aims and objectives. He acts as a critical partner and collaborates with senior service leads and directors on several service management and project/programme boards.

Critical to success has been influencing and working alongside different partners at a national, regional and local level.

But it’s been his response to a critical service area that has been outstanding: developing, modelling, consulting and gaining an agreement on the funding formula for special schools.

Over 18 months, he reviewed the formula and developed a matching-to-needs provision tool with 15 special school headteachers.

This work has been shared with the Department for Education as it is recognised that it provides a sustainable budget model. Other local authorities have looked to adopt a similar approach and have worked with Sam to roll out in their local areas.

And thanks to his work, the council has collaborated with health and education partners to secure over £5.5m in partner contributions.

Sam has been instrumental in building up trust and confidence from internal and external stakeholders and colleagues. Colleagues say contributes to every aspect of the organisation’s work from budget setting to in-year monitoring and reporting to closing the accounts – often taking a natural leadership role. And they describe Sam as “a wonderful colleague”.

Future work includes developing and streamlining payment solutions for social care in order to reduce reliance on ineffective, laborious and inefficient cash-handling processes.

The judges said: “The testimony for Sam’s entry described a person, still in their 20s, who is expertly leading teams to support the wider organisation’s strategy and deliver impact, not only with the council he works for but also with stakeholders such as schools, the integrated care system, and across the core cities. His commitment to public service is also demonstrated in his voluntary work as a governor. The judges are excited to see where his career takes him.”

Highly recommended: Alexandra Mason, Financial Controls and Assurance Manager, FCDO Services

Winner: Evan Haselwood, Head of Strategic Finance, Companies House

Being an approachable and well-trusted leader across the finance function and the wider organisation has played a pivotal role in helping Evan Haselwood, head of strategic finance at Companies House, secure this year’s prestigious Public Finance Leader of the Year Award.

Since joining Companies House three years ago, Evan has focused on promoting a culture of continuous improvement – striving to deliver an automated financial reporting and forecasting function and guiding the Executive Team towards better, well-evidenced decision-making through thoughtful presentation of financial information.

As part of his relentless focus on building a high-performing team, Evan has introduced a finance and investment committee to ensure that, as an organisation, Companies House is considering the long-term impact of its decisions and ultimately delivering value for money to the taxpayer. He has ensured that all members are equipped to provide appropriate challenge to project teams and ensure projects are delivered in line with the Green Books five-case model.

Evan’s delivery plan for the next 12 months and beyond is equally ambitious. He is looking to introduce an automated efficiency reporting tool to clearly track efficiencies against plan, build an automated long-term funding model to ensure the long-term financial stability of Companies House, deliver more active stakeholder engagement through data, and drive greater insights across the organisation.

The organisation is already reaping the benefits of Evan’s leadership and approach. The financial maturity and forecast accuracy of the organisation has been vastly improved, as Evan has become known throughout Companies House for overhauling the strategic finance function to bring efficient and proactive financial management to the core.

His opinion is now sought across Companies House, as others seek to tap into his insights on delivering complex financial projects. He has also built a strong relationship with the organisation’s parent department through the delivery of accurate and timely forecasts, with key financial analysis underpinning the numbers.

Furthermore, he invests a significant amount of time in other people’s development and progression, ensuring everyone is receiving the right support to meet their needs. This energy is reflected in the outputs his team are delivering through highly complex modelling and forecasting. Budget holders across the organisation provide frequent feedback on the strength of Evan’s finance business partnering function, which supports robust challenge to planned expenditure.

And, moving forward, he has further ambitions for a fully integrated funding model, which allocates multiple years’ worth of funding across services using appropriate cost drivers, in an automated way – as well as plans to be able to track costs at a transactional level, where the exact cost of an individual service can be identified.

The judges said: “Evan has demonstrated being a role model to others, fresh thinking and a strong focus on development.”

Winner: APEX Forms Project, Shared Services Connected

Ensuring pay and invoices are settled are complex tasks for any organisation – and it’s even bigger for public sector organisations.

Simplifying the processes and improving outcomes is the challenge achieved by our winner.

Shared Services Connected Limited (SSCL) is a multi-award-winning business process organisation serving the needs of over 260,000 civil servants. Annually, it makes over three million payroll payments, over one million invoice payments worth over £30bn, and achieves over 99% success.

Clients expressed their frustration with cumbersome manual Excel forms. They were time-consuming to complete and once submitted to SSCL there was no visibility of progress on the form. The forms are hosted on client intranet sites and users have complained they are difficult to find.

In some areas, clients’ business processing relies on manual processes – some relying on around 950 Excel spreadsheets. Accuracy is critical, but manual input means error margin is high.

But as part of each contract there is an expectation to transform the services for the benefit of clients so the APEX Forms Project was begun.

SSCL decided to address the problem by digitising the highest volumes of Excel forms.

Collaboration was facilitated through a series of client-specific sessions and briefings, providing a personalised experience. Targeted workshops dealt with more involved issues, working collaboratively to find joint solutions.

Clients had the opportunity and means to input their concerns, enhancement requests and improvements.

The project has to date digitally transformed over 55 forms, with a total of 88,000 being processed through the new APEX solution since November 2022.

This huge task has brought a radical transformation. At the end of November, 26 digital forms and two finance enhancements went live to over 150,000 civil servants replacing 55 Excel spreadsheets. During the first four weeks, 13,010 digital forms were submitted. Fewer than 60 incidents were raised. Less than 0.5% of incidents to forms were used. Rejection rates for service requests requiring rework dropped from 30% to 20% to just 5%.

Now, almost five months later, by mid-April, over 88,000 forms have been successfully used, including over 50,000 HR-related forms and more than 29,000 finance forms.

Customer feedback has been very positive. Survey results between December and January demonstrate NPS (net promoter scores) between +50 and +70.

The judges said: “This is a great example of improving business processes using modern technology. Judges were particularly impressed that clients were closely involved in identifying the best solution, in a thoughtful approach to the design, development and testing phases. This resulted in a strong positive impact on the business and users of the system, including increased satisfaction rates and positive client testimonials.”

Winner: Benefit Payment Systems Group, Department for Work and Pensions

In a cost-of-living crisis, urgently helping vulnerable people is vital, and that’s exactly what the benefits support team did, despite huge scale and a very short deadline.

In 2022/23 the Benefit Payment System Group (BPSG) played a critical role in a cross-government team, working to deliver cost of living payments worth £15bn to eight million low-income families and six million disabled people.

This was a new policy announced in the chancellor of the exchequer’s 2022 Spring Statement as part of a targeted package of measures. The payments were part of a new urgent policy objective that moved from design to delivery in just seven and a half weeks.

Given the very short timescale from process design to the commencement of delivery, the cost-of-living payments needed to be delivered with existing resources, so the team had to be flexible with availability and priorities to ensure that the objectives were achieved.

The team comprises 139 full-time equivalent colleagues, most of whom administer payments to DWP’s customers as well as resolve payment issues and complete daily reconciliation activities.

What enabled delivery was work on organisational culture to create an environment in which people can give their best, where they are trusted and empowered to deliver objectives, not just by having the right tools, training and autonomy, but by feeling they can be themselves at work.

As part of this, colleagues are encouraged to challenge the status quo and know that connectedness and collaboration are valued.

Their main role was ensuring the right financial processes were in place. The team also ensured that the financial systems and processes provided appropriate assurances that public funds were protected throughout. This was proved by the fact that no payment contingencies were required to be invoked. Not only that, but there was no disruption to existing payments.

An internal audit of the process is nearing completion and early indications are that no material issues have been raised.

The project is now being highlighted as an exemplar for others to follow. The aim is to inspire DWP colleagues and workstreams, showing colleagues that working collaboratively and inclusively is core to finding the best solutions to problems, the most productive ways of working and delivering excellent outcomes.

The judges said: “A large-scale project designed and delivered in seven weeks, taking into account all views and securing an optimum solution. Delivering a project that aligned to organisation and government priorities underpinned by good evidence of public sector values.”

Winner: Finance Team, West Northamptonshire Council

It was a running start for West Northamptonshire Council’s finance team as the authority was only created in April 2021 following local government reform across the county.

Created just before day one of the new council, staff were brought together from the predecessor authorities into a challenging new environment. The strategic finance and accountancy team consists of 57 permanent staff, including the S151 officer. 

The new structure also included a significant number of inherited vacant posts at a time when around 2,700 staff were being brought together council-wide. 

One huge task has been achieved. A week before the council was created, 10 sets of accounts remained outstanding from the previous authorities. The team worked relentlessly, with just one set now awaiting final audit sign-off.

Then came splitting the previous county council budgets and setting the first-ever budget. The first year was therefore a hypothetical one, yet the out-turn position showed that for 2021-22 the team delivered within that budget envelope.

Early this year, the team identified a £26.9m overspend, and swift action ensured the authority will deliver within budget again. And the inherited problem of a £22m road project has been tackled head-on.

Not only that, the team has established a productive, trusted and non-combative relationship with the external auditors as evidenced in a positive annual audit report.

Ongoing work incudes developing a capital strategy, new capital programme and robust governance to oversee both legacy council commitments and new schemes for the council.

The council’s leadership describe the finance team as “the backbone of a successful first two years”, overcoming every issue and challenge presented, but most of all giving confidence that the authority is in safe hands.

Future plans include professional development post-qualification through a variety of financial management work, and improvement projects. 

The team said: “We will continue to foster a supportive working environment where team members can learn from others and are empowered to make best use of their skills and experience, deliver positive change, and are encouraged to continue holding themselves and others to the highest possible standards.”

The judges were impressed: “A compelling case for this award, telling a story of how they had formed a new team after the reorganisation of the region’s councils at a time where there were huge challenges, consolidated the team, and formed the ‘backbone’ of the transition plan. 

“Excitingly, they drew a direct line from how the team culture of collaboration and innovation drove success, which has helped retain and promote staff within the team.”

Winner: Finance Department, East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust

Their vision is to be “a high performing finance, commercial and analytics function, to enable the trust in delivering the best care and experience”.

And the results show the 250-strong team is more than meeting that pledge.

It’s not just the senior team who are contributing to success. There are 21 CCAB and AAT students, with nine accessing the apprenticeship levy, who contribute significantly both regionally and nationally.

There are multiple demands across the organisation, so focus has been on developing simple-to-use systems and processes that minimise management for clinical and operational teams, allowing them to maximise time on clinical priorities.

The same principle is carried through to the team’s work. Procurement and clinical procurement lead work with divisions to identify the most appropriate routes to market, and develop supplier and contract management systems to ensure quality, safety, value and sustainable service delivery.

Developing business intelligence has led to better insights into the costs of clinical care. This has enabled work with financial and wider clinical and operational colleagues to enable change.

Embracing new technology has also improved visibility of how the organisation is working. By using robotic process automation to improve efficiency, the team has been able to move reports from monthly to daily, which gives more timely information for better decision-making.

And the implementation of a new training portal has provided managers with easy access to live training and appraisal information.

Development of machine-learning techniques to create an advanced analytics function is another innovation. 

Evolving the discharge pathways dashboard, elective orthopaedic dashboard and theatre productivity reports have supported the organisation during a critical period when the NHS is facing record levels of demand.

Results include the team being the first East of England organisation, and one of only 18 in the country, to receive its Towards Excellence accreditation – level 3 as part of the One NHS Finance/Future Focused Finance programme.

The team’s future objectives include expanding training to non-finance staff – along with increasing the use of technology – so the team can release further efficiencies and add greater value to the organisation.

The judges said: “It was a tightly fought category, particularly with strong staff development; however, East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust shone through as the overall winner. Demonstrating a very impressive arrange of achievements leading on excellence in finance and innovation using tech. Going beyond their boundaries, they were at the forefront of shaping the new structure within the NHS.”