Hackney Council’s finance supremo to depart after 14 years in the role

Ian Williams (centre) watches on at a recent council meeting. Photograph: Julia Gregory

Hackney’s long-serving finance director and acting chief executive Ian Williams is set to leave for a new challenge in Liverpool.

Williams, who helped guide Hackney’s response to the devastating cyber attack in 2020, is currently standing in for top boss Mark Carroll, who is on extended annual leave “to attend to family matters”.

The finance whizz previously stepped up to the role when Carroll’s predecessor left the council.

He is now departing to become head of finance at troubled Liverpool City Council, where five government-appointed commissioners are overseeing a range of services, including financial management. The local authority there is beset by £228m in bad and doubtful debts.

Williams has served as Hackney Council’s group director of finance for the last 14 years, during which he was involved in providing urgent support to residents and staff hit hard by the pandemic.

He also dealt with the fallout of the cyber attack, which paralysed many of the Town Hall’s services. The biggest impacts were on revenue services, which enable the council to raise and run its bills, and the benefits department, which handles thousands of claims.

If the council had been unable to restore the revenue system ahead of its budget in 2021, it would have had a “major impact on our ability to run the authority”, according to Williams. He would have had to base calculations such as the number of extra homes on assumptions from previous years.

The criminal investigation into the cyber attack, which has cost the council an estimated £10m, is still ongoing. It is thought the suspects are based overseas.

Speaking ahead of Hackney’s budget this year, Williams said he was “extremely confident” the authority was not at risk of following in the footsteps of councils such as Croydon and Thurrock, which were issued with Section 114 notices banning any new spending other than to help the most vulnerable.

Cabinet member for finance Robert Chapman said at the time: “We should be rightly proud of  the way we have managed our finances over the difficult period over the last 10 years or so. The stability of the council is strong.”

Hackney has had to cope with £150m in government funding cuts over the last decade.

As the cost-of-living crisis has worsened, Williams has been involved in setting up the council’s mobile Money Hub, which provides advice to residents.

It is estimated that £13m in benefits go unclaimed in Hackney each year, and the Hub aims to help recover £1m of that annually.