Public Sector Accountancy

  • Description
  • Tasks
  • Skills
  • Useful Knowledge
  • Entry Qualifications
  • Professional Qualifications
  • Trends
  • Resources
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Every year billions of pounds come into the Government treasury, through personal tax contributions and other revenue sources. This is then distributed out to public sector organisations for them to invest wisely in public services. Financial professionals working in the public sector are charged with making a real difference to people’s lives, from basic living standards, like housing and refuse collection to education, healthcare and community leisure facilities. In light of the recent public sector cuts, reducing expenditure, improve efficiency, implementing tighter procurement controls and driving value for money is central in public sector finance. You could be in charge of monitoring spending and accounts, maintaining the right level of control and preparing financial reports. Above all, you’ll be responsible for making sure that public money is being spent properly, on the right things and delivering value for money.


Trainee, non graduate, positions start at approximately £14,000 per annum. Graduate trainee positions start at approximately £22,000 per annum. With the right experience, qualifications and skills you could progress to management roles and earn in excess of £100,000 per annum. This does not include potential bonuses and additional benefits. Salaries will vary considerably based on location and employer.


  • Monitoring financial performance, making recommendations to enhance value 
  • Processing income and receipts, and expenditure and payments within the organisation, ensuring there is a clear record of all financial transactions 
  • Accounting for all income and expenditure, checking and verifying bank transactions and preparing ledger balances 
  • Drafting financial statements that comply with relevant accounting standards and applicable legislation 
  • Responding to requests for financial information, including overhead costs and revenues, drafting cost comparisons 
  • Gathering, analysing and reporting information about income and expenditure to support decision making, planning and control by managers 
  • Assessing and authorising preferred suppliers 
  • Preparing budgets and forecasts of income and expenditure 
  • Preparing and presenting periodic performance reports 
  • Reviewing accounting systems and practices  Implementing internal audit procedures
  •  Good IT and mathematical skills 
  •  Strong analytical skills and methodical 
  •  High level of accuracy and attention to detail 
  •  Diplomacy, with ability to negotiate budgets and explain reasons for decisions 
  •  Articulate, able to explain complex financial information clearly to non-financial people 
  •  Excellent interpersonal skills 
  •  Honesty, integrity and discretion 
  •  Good understanding of public policies 
  •  Enjoy working in a large team setting

A new entrant will not always be required to have this knowledge. Employers usually provide training to acquire skills for: 

  •  How to maintain public financial records and accounts 
  •  How to forecast expenditure and income 
  •  The process for drafting budget proposals 
  •  Drafting and interpreting financial statements 
  •  Operating a cash management, procurement and effective credit control system 
  •  Planning and conducting best practice internal audits

If you want to become a public sector accountant there are typically three main routes in. Entry points depend on previous experience and/or qualifications: 

  • Joining a graduate training programme, usually with a 2:1 degree or higher, and then undertaking a professional accountancy qualification, typically through the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA) 
  • Trainee accountants, usually with A Levels, Scottish Highers or equivalent qualifications such as BTEC National Diploma, Welsh Baccalaureate (BAC), SVQ Level 3 or Higher National Certificate (SCQF Level 7), working towards a professional accountancy qualification, typically CIPFA 
  • Working up from an accounting technician / assistant post, then working towards a professional accountancy qualification, typically CIPFA

Apprenticeships can be a useful way to gain entry and to progress on in the profession: 

  •  Level 2 Apprenticeship in Accounting (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) 
  •  Level 3 Apprenticeship in Accounting (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) 
  •  Level 4 Apprenticeship in Accounting (England, Scotland and Wales)  Level 7 Higher Apprenticeship in Accounting and Professional Services – Accounting, Audit and Tax

Many people working in financial accountancy have a professional accountancy qualification from one of the UK’s professional accountancy bodies: 

  •  Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) 
  •  Chartered Accountants Ireland (CAI)  Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) 
  •  Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA) 
  •  ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) 
  •  Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) 
  •  Association of International Accountants (AIA)

CIPFA is usually the choice for people working in public sector accountancy. They offer a fully modular qualification in three stages: 

  •  Professional Certificate Level 
  •  Professional Diploma Level 
  •  Strategic Final Test of Professional Competence, leading to Chartered Public Finance Accountant (CPFA)

CIPFA also offers specialist qualifications for public finance managers such as: 

  •  Certificate in International Public Sector Financial Reporting (Cert IPSFR) 
  •  Certificate in International Treasury Management - Public Finance Exemptions and fast-track routes may be available to part-qualified people or qualified members of the six professional accountancy bodies that make up the Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies (CCAB).

If you’re working in a charity, the CIPFA Certificate in Charity Finance & Accountancy may be more appropriate. CIPFA also offers postgraduate level qualifications, including the Postgraduate Diploma for Public Finance & Leadership (PDPFL) and Postgraduate Diploma for Leaders in Finance (PgLIF).

Public sector accountants are employed throughout the UK. Jobs are mainly in large towns and cities Employers include Local Government bodies like County Councils, the Civil Service, the NHS, the Audit Commission, Audit Scotland and the National Audit Office, schools and colleges, housing associations, police authorities, non-profit making charities and trusts and management accountancy firms that offer professional accountancy services to public sector organisations.