A career looking after the pennies

ALEX Jannetta has always been good with numbers.

So when he looked at a certain pile of statistics earlier this year they all added up to one thing for Falkirk Council's respected 58-year-old director of finance – early retirement.

Having launched his career in local government as a trainee accountant in 1970, he figured that, after a career spanning 40 years, the time was right to let somebody else crunch the numbers.

Born and raised in Newport on Tay, Mr Jannetta was educated at Bell Baxter High School in Cupar, Fife, and in 1970, aged just 18, was recruited by Midlothian County Council.

Local government reorganisation in 1975 saw the opportunity to switch to Edinburgh District Council as principal assistant in the finance department and, in 1977, by this time a fully qualified accountant, he joined East Lothian County Council.

A year later, Mr Jannetta arrived in Falkirk as senior accountant and was promoted to director of finance of the district council in 1991 then Falkirk Council following the second shake-up of local authorities in 1996.

He has been in charge of local town hall spending ever since, overseeing annual budgets worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

While elected members of the administration had the final say on the direction huge sums of cash have taken, his task was always to make sure they were armed with the very best fiscal advice before any cheques were issued.

He remembers the build up to signing off multi-million pound projects over the years as having their moments, and the challenges he faced trying to patiently explain the accountants' view of a balance sheet to councillors.

He can also reflect on a career which saw him in charge of a council purse which had to cope with major fundraising issues which included the abolition of domestic rates, the introduction of its flawed 'poll tax' replacement and then the launch of the council tax system.

Of course it wasn't his money, but it was his responsibility to make sure it was invested wisely.

Such a balanced approach saw Falkirk Council take major steps forward.

Mr Jannetta stepped up to support the Private Finance Initiative to rebuild the district's falling down secondary schools, the first senior officer of any council in Scotland to declare the controversial package as "the only game in town".

His advice on how best to raise the money to build the new police and fire stations and invest in its crumbling town centres was just as robust.

He admits: "My role was to tell the politicians who were making the policies what the best options were to deliver the finance required.

''There were obviously pros and cons surrounding PFI and PPP, but the bottom line was both were able to deliver what was needed and the result is now we have one of the best school estates in Scotland.

"The regeneration of these and our other facilities has improved the area enormously and will benefit generations to come.

''It was my job to look after the council's financial affairs properly and it is satisfying to note that this was all achieved with one of the lowest council tax levels in the country.

"The council faces very difficult times ahead and, over the next three or four years, there are going to be more difficult decisions that have to be made.

''But it has tightened its belt before and continued to provide services and value for money and I'm confident that, with its ability to look out of the box, that will continue.

''I think it's encouraging it is already asking the communities for their views on spending because working together is the way to achieve the goals."

After 40 years looking after the public's pounds, Alex now plans to take care of his own 'pounds'.

While a brisk lunchtime walk between his office in the Municipal Buildings and the High Street Monday to Friday was a pretty decent fitness regime for a busy man, he is now determined to get in better shape by joining a gym.

He is also looking forward to spending more quality time with wife Sheila and their teenage boys, Michael (19) and Christopher (16), but expects that, after a "few months of recharging the batteries", he will be ready for a fresh challenge.

He certainly intends to continue as chairman of the Strathcarron Hospice Council of Management, an organisation he has had many years' involvement with, as he relaxes ahead of considering his options in the new year.

Council's chief executive Mary Pitcaithly paid tribute to her former colleague.

She said: "Alex had an impressive career in local government and given dedicated public service.

''He was popular with his staff and colleagues in the corporate management team as well as elected members and we were all able to rely on his vast knowledge of the often very difficult area of local government finance.

''His sense of humour was often able to lighten some very difficult discussions over the years and, as a very supportive colleague, we will miss him greatly but wish him and his family the very best for the future."