Amsterdam CFO: public sector accountants need negotiating skills

13 Jul 17

Negotiating and influencing abilities are increasingly important parts of senior public sector accountants’ skill set, Amsterdam’s chief financial officer told the CIPFA conference.

In a session on global cities and the role of the CFO yesterday, part of the conference’s international programme, Marike Bonhof said: “You shouldn’t only be a bookkeeper – you should have very good negotiation and soft skills to connect with people, and listen to them.”

Bonhof cited the example of successful negotiation with Air BnB to limit the number of tourists coming into the Dutch city and to get the accommodation website to also collect tourist tax for the city authorities.

The city had also negotiated successfully with the central government of the Netherlands on the construction of a new sea lock to provide access to the port of Amsterdam.

Although it took some time, Bonhof said a fair deal was struck to shares costs and spread risks and the project is expected to come in €250m under budget. The only tension now, she joked, was how best to share in this saving.

As well as professional excellence, Bonhof said it was important for city CFOs to be publicly accountable.

“[You must] realise that everything you do will be on Twitter or social  media within one hour. But you can use that as well. You can influence what local people think.”

She added “information is the new finance”.

“Understanding data and digitalisation is the new challenge we are facing today.”

Amsterdam’s deal with Air BnB was also highlighted by another of the session’s speakers, Caroline Al Beyerty, deputy chamberlain of the City of London Corporation, who ran through some of the things the eight cities in the European City Economic and Financial Governance (CEFG) Group are doing to tackle gentrification and touristification.

Other tools include licensing, of buy-to-let, for example, taxation, including tourist taxes, and pricing, such a parking charges.

The group, which comprises London, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Dublin, Barcelona, Milan, Bordeaux and Vilnius, meets regularly to discuss financial reporting and provide a link to the European Public Sector Accounting Standards project, but also to discuss “hot topics” such as infrastructure, revenue generation and open budgeting.

The session also heard from Richard Holt, head of global cities research at Oxford Economics, who provided an overview of city growth and contraction around the world.

Most of the world’s most prosperous cities were concentrated in three regions - North America, Europe and the Pacific rim of Asia - putting those in Africa and Latin America at a geographic disadvantage.

Latin American cities, he added, had “no excuse” as they were at the same level of development as other cities 100 years ago, but had become plagued by corruption.

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