Ben Cookson MAAT, accounting professional, schools finance department, Cheshire East Council.
Rise and shine
The first interesting point of my day is realising which bed I’m in when I wake up! My four-year old daughter generally wakes me up at about 3am to come into my bed. My wife and I also have a five-week old girl in the bed too, which means no room for me. I’m then made to sleep in my daughters single bed, while the rest of the family enjoy the king-size bed and goose feather pillows.
My morning routine is always the same. Once I’ve checked my sleep app for how efficient my sleep was during the night, it’s shower time then we all go down for breakfast. Food is an important part of our lives and we rotate between pancakes, baked trout, porridge or a cooked breakfast. I also make my lunch every day, a two-cup cafetière of the best ground coffee I can find and then I hit the road.
My commute time is 50 minutes, which means it’s podcast time! I have a varied selection of podcasts, from current news/affairs to self improvement, techniques to optimise my life/time and lots of history. By the time I hit work, I’m pumped up from knowledge and caffeine and I’m already planning the day ahead when I’m walking into the office.
During term time, I’m required to attend finance meetings at various schools in Cheshire, so I may head straight to a meeting. I often have two meetings a day, so during this period I’m difficult to get hold of and rarely in the office. We can hot-desk at other locations, but due to parking restrictions my favourite spot is the leisure centre, where I can pick up corporate wifi.
I have a good relationship with most of the schools I give financial support to, so it’s nice to leave the office for a few weeks and travel round catching up on the gossip and finding out more about the local community. I also keep a close eye on how the changes in legislation and funding are affecting schools at a grass roots level.
Desk: home from home
If I’m in the office for the day, then I very rarely leave my desk. I open up email first to check if there’s anything urgent or quick that I can respond to. Most of my emails are queries from schools about their financial position or the accounting treatment for various items of income and expenditure. Some schools need little attention, whereas others are in serious financial difficulty and require a lot of my time.
With so many interested parties, like my manager, her manager, school governors, bursars and head teachers who may all contact me independently, it can become a bit of a minefield. Staying focused, organised and able to act professionally at all times is certainly tested.
Beside the queries, the core of my job is preparing budget documents for the finance meetings, which the schools use to guide their financial decisions. This can involve sensitive situations like losing members of staff, so accuracy is of the upmost importance.
The demands of the job don’t allow me to get much more than 20 minutes for lunch, which I take religiously in the breakout area on the 3rd floor.
The afternoon is much of the same, but for all the pressure there’s a great team spirit and we always have a laugh, never taking things too seriously. There’s always a birthday card, a sweepstake, a raffle or donation circulating the office, so it’s important to have some change available to contribute!
If I could sum up my day, it’s a 7-hour bare knuckle fight with Microsoft Excel!
I’m also studying my CIPFA qualification, so once a week I travel to Manchester on the train and attend college for the day. It’s high intensity learning and I need to fit in about 20 hours revision a week for exams that are held every six months. I get my next exam results in July, so all being well I will be qualified in twelve months.
Job 2… and 3: cook and father
I always make sure I’m home before 6pm so I can sit down and have tea with the family. I’m on cooking duties normally and I like to have two things on the go at once, so there’s always something in the fridge for the family. It’s then bath and story time for my eldest and then my personal time starts from 7.30pm. I have a quick window to either revise, clean the kitchen or update the family budget. 9pm I like to read a book for half an hour to an hour; at the moment I’m reading People of the Sea by Immanuel Velikovsky.
Bed is always 10pm so I can get my eight hours in.
Photo: Ben Cookson, MAAT.
Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.