Megan Hayward: Hello and welcome to another episode from Companies House. We have recently launched our new 5-year strategy, and one of our strategic goals is about how we deliver value through efficient use of resources. So, I'm here today with Michelle Wall, Director of Finance at Companies House. And today Michelle is going to give us a bit of an insight into her work and how that work runs through, who we are and what we do. So, hi Michelle, how are you?
Michelle Wall: I'm very good. Megan, how are you?
MH: Yes, I'm well, thank you. I'm just going to jump in straight away with the first question. I know how busy you are! So could you please tell me a little bit about your role and how it contributes to us as an organisation?
MW: Okay, so I'm the Director of Finance and Commercial and I cover 4 areas in terms of activity. So financial transactions, that’s the money coming in and the money going out, so what people generally think of as the finance team. All that purchasing, order processing and payroll activity.
I've got a strategic finance and business partnering team. They’re a new team, and they’re delivering, what I call the looking up and looking out. So they're looking forward, they’re supporting the business, understanding our strategic finance needs – have we got the money that we need, when we need it? And if we haven't, putting those plans in action to make sure we get that sorted.
I've got a commercial team. They cover sort of procurement and buying third-party contract, supporting the business through the contract management and the life of those contracts. I also have some responsibility for risk management and assurance. So alongside all of that, making sure that we're understanding our risks and making sure that all our governance processes are delivering the activity that they need to. I'm also Exec Champion for equality, diversity and inclusion. And that's something I'm very passionate about.
MH: Well, that's quite a breadth of things there. The one I found most interesting was sort of the horizon scanning team.
MH: You sort of mentioned it at the beginning. Like, for me, I wouldn't even know that that's something that we would be doing at Companies House. So that's really interesting.
MW: So that is a new piece of activity and became even more of a focus for us. We used to be what's called a trading fund and even though we were a government organisation and civil servants, we were financially independent. Due to a decision at the centre, we lost our trading fund status in April last year. And as a consequence, we now need to do, we’re part of the vote funding system, we’re part of the spending reviews, and that's activity that we didn't do before. So we need to be able to demonstrate that we've got really good plans in that place to make sure that our spending requests are acknowledged and people give us money for it. So that's a new team with a much more structured focus in ensuring what we're doing.
It's also supporting the activity for the new strategy, one of the reasons that we're here today. In terms of ensuring that all that new activity that we're doing and the way that we're changing is financially sustainable.
MH: Thank you. So how do we make sure that we have the right resources when we need them? And that they are operated efficiently?
MW: I could do a very short answer and just say plan, plan, plan! We recognize that we've published a very ambitious strategy and vision for the future for Companies House. And that's given us a really good understanding of exactly what we're going to need in terms of resources. But I think resources, when people talk about resources, they forget that resources are not just people – it’s money, it’s third party contracts, it’s time. Everything that we have at our disposal to deliver those goals. And we need to make sure that you know, all those good ideas that we have get turned into tangible actions and we need those plans in place to ensure that we kind of know what we want and what we need and are able to deliver that.
So in terms of, we've got a good road map now in terms of where we're going, but we also need to understand whether those plans that we have are complete with new services. And to the point that I made earlier about, you know, is that financially sustainable? Do we have a funding stream for that? Is it a tweak to something that we're already doing, more of a minor change? And we do have a funding stream for that. So all those plans need to be pulled together into the centre with my strategic finance team. My commercial team are heavily involved, and also strategic workforce planning is a key element to this as well. And we feed all those smaller plans up, compare them to the roadmap and make sure that all those plans align. It's, it's yeah, one of the things where we've been encouraging our people to be adaptable, bold and curious. I know some of the other podcasts have mentioned this in ways that we think about the challenges that we're facing. Some of those conversations that my teams are having around how we allocate our resources and invest those resources and make sure that they're efficiently used are probably where we see some of the great innovations in solutions, people being adaptable, bold and curious.
We do have funds, which is great, but they're not limitless. So there's always trade-offs to be made. There are always different ways that we can think about doing things. My team has a great diverse background certainly in terms of their work experiences. I've got people from industry. I've got people from NHS backgrounds. I've got people from Civil Service backgrounds, central government. And all of those people come together to bring really good solutions. And I love to see those plans coming together and really demonstrating how, as an organisation, all our different thoughts can produce really great end results.
MH: Yeah that's all really, really interesting and thought-provoking stuff. Can you tell me some of the ways that we ensure that we deliver value for money?
MW: Of course, I mean, value for money is important for our customers, it's important for our stakeholders and as a government organisation, you know, it runs through us like a stick of rock. But I think understanding what delivering value for money looks like is, is key. I think, sometimes when people think about value for money, they focus just on one element of that, in terms of doing things cheaply, or cost effectively as much as possible. But there are other elements. You know, if I could spend 10 pounds and deliver 100 pounds worth of value that may be seen as a good, a good investment. But if I could invest 15 pounds and deliver 1,000 pounds worth of value, then clearly, that is a much better investment.
And I think we need to understand how we value what the outcome looks like. And that is some work that we're doing now. We've recently strengthened our economists team, to give us much more of that understanding. Some of the work that was done in the last couple of years - we did some research on the value of our register, to understand how much that is worth to the economy. It's worth between one and 3 billion pounds, which is huge. Relatively speaking, we can spend, as an organisation, Companies House, relatively small amounts of money and make quite a big impact on that value.
So, we're really focusing on the whole breadth of what value for money looks like and, and hopefully certainly internally, but hopefully externally as well, people will start to see the benefits of that over the life of the strategy, because we'll be doing a lot more work in that in that space. So it's a really exciting time. We'll be looking at the Public Value Framework and doing an assessment of that at some point in the not too distant future. So it's really exciting. And we're really looking forward to being able to demonstrate what great value we are delivering.
MH: Yeah, that is really exciting. My next question, it's sort of a hot topic that I think is a priority for most. Well hopefully a priority for most at the moment. But can you speak from a Companies House point of view about our environmental goals and what we're doing to meet them?
MW: Absolutely. I think, you know, the green agenda, certainly is a key focus. Net Zero, for BEIS, who’s our parent department, is a key element of what they're working on, and we need to play our part in that. I think Companies House has quite a strong story and narrative in this space. We've done a lot of work in the past around the building, and how we run that effectively. We’ve had a biomass boiler for example, for a long time. And so, it's been a key focus for us. I think we're continuing to do that work. In terms of reducing our energy, water usage on site, you know, and looking at alternative ways of working, to reduce our impact on the environment.
But I think we will need to consider the results. You know, what's going to change as a consequence of the pandemic and how we're now working? Many of us are working from home. We're going to be using our offices potentially in very different ways. When we go back to post-pandemic, if there is such a thing, we need to take those opportunities as much as we can. So we're doing lots of the small stuff around our technologies. We're putting things into the cloud, because cloud-hosted services generally have much better environmentally friendly ways of cooling mechanisms and that kind of thing. So we are looking across the piece in all things that we're doing. Our environmental champion, Martin Swain, his favourite at the moment is, we need to start reducing the amount of emails that we send and keep because every email creates a transaction on the web. And we're storing all this stuff that we don't need which is just a thank-you from someone. So he’s on a mission.
MH: That’s taking it next level, isn't it?
MW: That's right. So I think there's another impact that we can have though. And another really important one, which is a key role to influence our millions of customers. We have 4.23 million customers on the register, something like 20 million directors, and one of the biggest ways that we can influence them is asking them, and encouraging them, and making it easy for them to file digitally, as opposed to sending it as paper. Even though we have well into the 90% usage of our digital services, we still had, in December, which is a big accounts filing month, 4 tonnes of paper come into the office. Now, that's not just the paper impact. That's the cost of delivering that paper. It’s the cost of us managing that paper and disposing of that paper at the point when it becomes digital in the office. And I think, yeah, really pushing hard for our customers to interact digitally, and think about their impact and their interaction with us. And how that impacts on the environment is another key area and we’ll be doing a lot of work in that space of the next 3 to 4 years.
Indeed this year, we have stopped our paper reminders for people and transitioned everybody onto digital reminders. And we've seen a huge decrease in our paper usage and our postage as a consequence. So really focusing on the 2 aspects of our ambition. The internal, what we control with our people, and what we can do with our customers and the wider population.
MH: That's fab, thank you. And my last question, I ask everyone this but it’s my favourite question to ask. What have you learned about yourself in this past year? In a personal, or professional capacity, or both?
MW: So this one is a tricky one. I think it’s always difficult when you self-reflect, isn't it? Oh, goodness me. And I think, probably the thing that has struck me most is the focus of well-being. Companies House has always been an organisation that has been very focused on the well-being of its staff and its customers and stakeholders. But I think I’ve never been more focused on my own personal well-being, and the impact that the changes in environment that we've had to cope with over the last year, both on a personal level, you know, with my family, my kids being in school one day, out of school another day, in lockdown, in isolation and coping with all those, all those huge emotional swings. But also on a professional capacity, you're doing all your work in quite an isolated way, in my back bedroom! And I think really being focused on well-being for yourself, your family, and you know, your team around you has been the thing that I've learnt that I need to be focused on even more. I knew it anyway, but I think it's really come in to my consciousness on a daily basis, which I don't think it was before.
And so I think understanding how it impacts on my resilience has probably been the thing that I've learned most about myself this year.
MH: Yeah, I think lots of things have moved from the backs of our minds to the fronts of our minds.
MW: Absolutely, yeah.
MH: Well, thank you so much and thank you everybody for listening. If you haven't already, then please have a look back on our podcast channel where I discuss some more of our goals with different team members and also, this is the last podcast of the series. Michelle you've been an absolutely amazing guest. Take care. Goodbye.
MW: Thank you. Bye.