We spoke with Phil Reynolds, founder of PLR Advisory – a financial management and consultancy services business supporting the education sector across the South East – about how and why he set up his business, and what challenges are coming up for academies over the next few years…

We spoke with Phil Reynolds, founder of PLR Advisory – a financial management and consultancy services business supporting the education sector across the South East – about how and why he set up his business, and what challenges are coming up for academies over the next few years…

Tell us a bit about PLR Advisory, and why now was the right time for you to launch your own business?

PLR is a financial management and consultancy services business solely focussed on the education sector. We love empowering and educating people and that is at the forefront of what we do. I see my job as being someone who can improve and develop people to make them grow. I tried to do that in practice too as I get a real sense of achievement from it.

I decided to setup the company after many years in practice as my true passion has always been the education sector. I love the diversity within it, no school or Trust is ever the same. It is challenging but also very rewarding. Setting up the business has been daunting and it was a huge step to leave practice after so many years, but if I didn’t do it now then I never would. I didn’t want to have a “what if” moment later on in life.

Why did you chose finance as a career?

At school my aspiration was to be a journalist due to my love of football but my English teacher said that my writing wasn’t good enough which made me quash that idea. I attended a careers event laid on by my previous firm and decided to apply. Since I got the job there, I’ve never looked back and actually started writing articles for the firm’s website – so perhaps my teacher wasn’t right after all?

Why did you end up working across the education sector?

We had a few a local authority school clients that I looked after and one decided to convert to an academy. I helped support them on the journey and pretty much taught myself along the way. We showcased the work we did, won some more convertors and it grew from there. As I mentioned earlier, the diversity in the sector is what I love and the more clients we help, the more diverse my portfolio became. I realised I needed to sit on the other side of the fence…so became a governor in my old primary school – I’m still there today and hope I’m making a difference.

Who is PLR Advisory aimed at, and what services will you be able to offer schools?

Our main audience is Chief Financial Officers, but also Trustees too. Many people forget their volunteers also need help and support. If I can provide that for them I will because I understand how tough it can be. If we can make everyone in the sector better at what they do then the educational delivery will only benefit as a result. It’s a win win.

We currently specialise in Internal Audit and also love delivering training sessions. However, we can do so much more from interim finance team cover, Annex G assurance reviews on specific grants, Teachers Pensions Scheme audits, and support towards year end preparation including SECR reporting help. We’re also happy to provide support and coaching to newly established Trusts, in particular their CFOs, as it can be a leap into the academy world.

Specifically in finance, in your opinion what is the biggest challenge academies and academy trusts will face in the next 12-18 months? And are there any changes in regulations or rules trusts should be aware of?

There are lots of challenges ahead particularly since the white paper was released. Growth is a huge factor. Trusts need to get ahead of the curve and build their systems for growth. It’s very much a catch-22; building up infrastructure comes at a cost and there’s no guarantee of growth.  Suddenly you have costs that are not delivering for you. But, the pain of trying to develop systems etc. after the event is much worse and far more challenging. GAG pooling is also a hot topic when looking at growth but there’s limited guidance out there – thankfully I’ve worked with Trusts that have pooled and also, sadly, seen the problems that the DfE don’t mention. I’m on a crusade for the DfE to issue guidance to help Trusts….they need it. But in the meantime, I’ll support and help if required.

Looking further ahead, climate change and equality, diversity and inclusion are coming down the tracks fast. Schools are businesses so the climate change issue is not just about educating the pupils, it’s about how you act as a business and with cost pressures it’s difficult. But Generation Z are going to the next batch of “customers” for schools and they will be looking at what the trust is doing. EDI is slowly being talked about but not enough, there’s also the current comments being made around culture and attitude in the government and that will accelerate down into the public sector.

Tell us a bit about yourself, and your life outside of PLR Advisory.

As mentioned, I have a passion for football with a season ticket at Gillingham FC. I’m also now an avid runner chasing a sub3 marathon goal. It’s a work in progress and a long journey, but in the past 18 months I’ve got my time down from 3:41 to 3:08 so I am getting there and hope to achieve it in Spring 2023.

My wife and I also enjoy being outside and socialising. It’s not quite so easy since the arrival of our Romanian rescue dog, Betsy, but we try to embrace her in as much as possible too. She can be a challenge at times but we just can’t imagine life without her now.

If you could change one thing about the academy sector, what would it be?

It was always meant to be about freedoms originally, but sadly where the DfE have been burnt in the past by a minority it has led to lots of regulation. I think regulation is needed, but at the moment it feels like a lack of trust. Pardon the pun, but it’s a school playground scenario where the minority have spoilt it for the majority because there is so much good work out there. I would like to see some relaxation in regulation – particularly when it comes to borrowing for trusts, they need to able to use money more effectively and not being able to borrow for certain products – particularly in light of climate change, is proving difficult.