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Regional Outlook: North West England

September 2013

The market for accounting and senior finance professionals is buoyant in the North West at present. So good opportunities exist at every level across commerce and industry, practice and the public sector.

Commerce and Industry


As business confidence picks up in the North West, the skills of finance professionals are in demand. Many SMEs are beginning to gear up for growth thanks to improving availability of credit from lenders. Meanwhile, larger companies are finally investing in the big projects that they have had on hold for the past five years. This is creating openings for accountants who want to work in more value-added roles, such as financial planning and analysis. New positions are also arising as a result of M&A activity and management buy-outs. The service sector, including financial services, is thriving. This is partly due to several well known banks near-shoring some of their middle-office functions to Chester from London and hiring accountants to fill product control roles.

Payroll experts have been particularly sought after over the past year due to the Real Time Information Initiative, which requires employers to submit their payroll data online to HM Revenue & Customs, and the rollout of pension auto enrolment. This demand is starting to taper off now, however. Credit professionals are finding there is an appetite for their services, particularly in the SME market, since businesses want to speed up the amount of time it takes for them to be paid by their customers.

Vacancies are arising for finance professionals at every stage in their career, ranging from part-qualified and purchase ledger roles through to finance director positions. As usual, demand for part- or newly qualified accountants is highest since they are presumed to be enthusiastic and up to speed with the latest accounting regulations. As a result, they can earn pay rises in the region of 15% when they move jobs.

Salaries have largely stayed stable this year, although the number of counteroffers being made to retain staff has increased significantly. Employers are beginning to realise that the balance of power is starting to shift in favour of employees and that they need to pay a premium to attract the best candidates.


Practice

Many accountancy firms are more positive about the economic climate this year, reporting rising fee income as they take on new clients and help existing clients with more work. This is helping to drive recruitment as firms look to hire accounting and audit semi seniors, seniors, qualified accountants and managers.
Within practice, hiring is focused on servicing core work, such as accounting and audit, payroll and tax. The market for specialists in forensic accountancy is better than it has been for a few years, but insolvency and corporate finance remain flat.

But while the outlook for accountancy firms has improved, succession crises continue to haunt the profession. There is a major shortage of up-and-coming partners who have a great track record of bringing in business and are willing to buy out existing partners in a practice. This is either because potential candidates lack the skills and experience to run a general practice, or they are unwilling to take the risk of buying into a partnership.


Public Sector

The well-publicised reorganisation of the National Health Service (NHS) and the restructuring that is taking place within social housing are driving hiring of finance professionals in the public sector.

Many finance professionals who previously worked for the NHS primary care trusts (PCTs) have moved to the new clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), sometimes in higher-graded roles. Employers are therefore hiring contract workers to handle the March 2013 year-end accounts of the PCTs before they are wound down. As there are more CCGs than there were PCTs, there is a shortage of finance people with NHS experience to fill the new permanent positions, increasing the demand for good candidates. Senior finance people with experience of change management are also sought after for transformation projects.

Housing association mergers are creating opportunities for interim finance professionals who are hired to provide cover while the shape of the new organisation is hammered out. There is also some natural market movement generated by finance directors looking to move on after serving a few years in their present role.

Hiring into local government roles is still limited due to the funding cuts that have been imposed on bodies in this sector.

Summary

Signs of economic recovery in the North West are helping to stimulate the recruitment market. As a result, candidates are more open to moving jobs now than they have been for a while, but employers will need to offer good packages that combine financial remuneration with improved career prospects in order to attract the best.