my brilliant career - finance directors

Published: 13/06/2002, Volume II2, No.5809 Page 28 29

Ideally he would have liked to be a rock star, but opportunities took him in a different direction. Barry Elliott tells Ann Dix how he has got this far and what he expects from his new job

Name: Barry Elliott

Age: 50 ('but I look, act and feel far younger')

New job: From July, director of finance, Surrey and Sussex strategic health authority

Outgoing post: Since 1994, deputy chief executive and director of finance at Barts and the London trust

Salary: Currently£109,000. 'All I can say about my new job is that it will not be more than that.'

Describe your new job

Primarily providing professional leadership to the finance function, developing a strategic framework for capital investment, managing and delivering the annual franchise plan for the sector, performance management of trusts in Surrey and Sussex and facilitating solutions to local financial problems. Unlike the regions, the SHA will be at the centre of the health system and not at the top of it in a hierarchical way and will not directly control allocation of revenue funding. It will, however, operate within a much stronger accountability framework. I will not have a large team supporting me and will have to work through the trust finance directors to deliver plans and objectives.

What was your career path?

After graduating in economics I joined Westminster city council as a finance trainee and qualified with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy in 1976. I worked for a number of local authorities before moving to CIPFA as an assistant secretary in 1982, where I became interested in the health service. In 1983 I became principal assistant treasurer for Victoria health authority, and when Riverside HA was created I became unit general manager to Westminster and St Stephen's Hospitals. In 1987, I was seconded to North West Thames regional health authority as deputy regional treasurer working for Colin Reeves, before returning to Riverside in 1989 as director of resources.

Three years later I was made regional finance and information director at South East Thames - the pinnacle of my career. When RHAs were abolished I moved back to the frontline, to Barts and the London trust.

What attracted you to the SHA job?

The opportunity to carve out a new role in a new organisation within my local community, an end to a minimum of three hours a day commuting and the strategic focus of the role.

What will you miss most about your current job and what will you be glad to leave behind?

I will miss the people I work with. Also the uniqueness of the East End and being a part of such a well-known organisation. I'll also miss the direct relationship and involvement with the clinicians. I will not miss the travelling.

What are you looking forward to in your new job?

Apart from driving my MG to the office and around the sector, establishing and developing the finance network and working collaboratively with colleagues to address the significant challenges facing Surrey and Sussex.

What do you expect to be the biggest challenge?

Getting the sector back into underlying financial balance, while delivering on the NHS plan.

What have been the high points of your career?

Becoming the first elected national chair of the Healthcare Financial Management Association.

In my current job, the congratulations that I and the whole finance directorate received from the trust board after getting the trust back into recurrent financial balance and clearing the£12m accumulated deficit. Also, hearing from my chief executive that I am highly regarded by the clinicians, who trust my judgement and appreciate the advice I've given, even though it has sometimes been difficult advice to give.

Describe your most difficult moment?

Spending an hour being carpeted by Sir Alan Langlands following press coverage of an HFMA survey exposing the extent of financial pressures in the NHS.

How do you relax?

My great love is golf, which I try to play at least once a week. I love cars and like to spend as much time as possible driving my MG. I enjoy gardening and photography. Taking a break and relaxing from the rigours of the job is vital.

What job might you have done instead?

Idealistically I would have liked to be a rock star - but that requires talent. More realistically I might have gone into teaching, but my wife is a teacher and the pressures are just as great as my job and the pay lousy.

What's your best piece of careers advice?

do not plan your career too carefully, but do take advantage of opportunities. do not stay in the same place or post for too long or you become stale.

Just the job

Title: Director of finance - but few are just that, particularly in the newly fledged primary care trusts, where their role can include anything from performance management and commissioning to office management.

Salary: From£50,000 for a PCT, going up to over£100,000 for the larger London acute trusts.

Status: Remains high, and a common route to becoming chief executive.

Distinguishing features: Much more than just bean counters.

Wide-ranging corporate players with an increasingly generalist role, particularly in PCTs. Mentoring and leadership skills likely to be in demand in strategic health authorities.

Prospects: The advent of PCTs means the number of posts has burgeoned since last year, from around 500 to 640, with demand outstripping supply. Cultural changes on the horizon include the setting up of shared-service centres, which will reduce the size of trust finance directorates, and changes in the regulation of the profession.