You may have seen the claims by the Health Secretary that he can ‘save’ £500m per annum from so-called health tourists. A brief look at the details of this claim shows that it wouldn’t have got past the review of a decent FD. A significant part of the ‘saving’ is made up of the costs which will not now be incurred by those who will not now come to the UK for health tourism because the government is now being so tough. In other words it’s nonsense; unmeasurable, unprovable and, indeed, unlikely.
As it happens I have no quibble with Jeremy Hunt trotting out this dross, nor any with the civil servants who allowed him to (1). The UK is a democracy, he and his colleagues in government were elected and whilst his position might in other ways be homologous to that of a CEO, his relationship with his CFO equivalent is not at all the same as that in a business environment.
The relationship between CFO and CEO is, at least on the part of the former, a somewhat ambiguous one. When I joined GEC I had my fifth and final interview at the Stanhope Gate HQ with the then Group CFO David Newlands. Having mused aloud for a while on what a marvellous country we lived in where someone from the slums of the East End could end up in Mayfair having a meeting with someone like him (that is a literal quote) he then explained my role as a divisional FD to me. “Your job” he said “is to stop the divisional MD from spending all the money without him firing you”. And he was right. In fact he could have added that it is also the CFO’s job to stop the CEO passing on inaccurate, overoptimistic or otherwise misleading forecasts to other stakeholders, especially those whose money it is, without, once again, finding oneself out of a job.
The equivocacy of this position is what makes it difficult to be a CFO and is, let’s be frank, what keeps me in work. A lot of otherwise excellent accountants can’t handle it and find themselves being shown the door by one side or the other. My own view is simply that if one can’t ride two horses at once then one shouldn’t be in the circus. As the soldier, spy and diplomat Vernon A Walters said “I’m a participant in the doctrine of constructive ambiguity”.
(1) I do however have an issue with the press and broadcasting media who have completely failed to hold him to account.