Client Case Study
London Borough Councils

London Borough Councils

Ascend supported the Deputy Chief Financial Officers of 11 London borough councils with action learning and group coaching.

The cohort of senior finance professionals benefited from stronger relationships, sharing of best practice and increased resilience at a time when financial pressures in local government continue to rise and the needs and expectations of local communities remain high.


The Deputy Chief Financial Officer / Section 151 Officer position is central to the effective governance of any local authority. The role balances the responsibilities for strong financial management and effective financial controls, corporate leadership, supporting and advising elected members, and operational colleagues and leading a responsible finance service.

The challenges facing officers in the role are significant, and the recent and current economic and public health challenges have only increased financial pressures on local government services.

Ascend provided a programme of development support and action-learning, that aims to help Deputy CFOs to face their individual and shared challenges, to provide them with ways to work together to think differently and overcome their barriers, and the confidence to act to put their ideas into practice.

The Approach

We met with the cohort in a series of confidential 1-1 conversations to better understand the specific challenges they face. This gave us a clear understanding of the context, background and insight to focus on the areas that matter and provide the specific support that will help the Officers face into the issues they’re looking to overcome.

Through this discovery work, we identified common challenges around strategic partnering with budget holders, implementation of organisational change, and recruitment and retention of scarce finance skills in critical roles.

This allowed us to group colleagues into action learning sets, with the critical focus on the real issues and challenges facing them.

"I’ve learnt about myself and also built a stronger bond with colleagues in other organisations.

That strengthened network and trust with peers is extremely useful for resilience going forward."

Deputy Chief Finance Officer
"Having the perspective of differing viewpoints is an absolutely fantastic tool to make sure you can make the best decisions."

Deputy Chief Finance Officer

The Impact

Our programme of development support created of a community of practice amongst finance professionals in the same roles across multiple Councils in the London boroughs, as well as a strong network of support to enable officers to overcome the personal and professional challenges they face.

The action learning enabled real sharing of expertise and experience, identification of common issues amongst the groups, and a collective and collaborative approach to addressing them. Furthermore, participants reported that they felt a renewed impetus to act, to overcome existing obstacles and barriers within their respective authorities.

Our work with the group cultivated shared accountability for taking ideas, committing and implementing them in their work, with the expectation that the report back to their peers on actions and progress made, as well as next steps and support needed.