View from the House – Why won’t the ACCA join the reform club?

View from the House - Why won't the ACCA join the reform club?

ACCA officers were condemned by 41 MPs for pressurising the employersof one reformer

Admirable as our accountancy bodies are as regulators, I’m dismayed by the way some handle the calls for reform which every institution in Britain, from the monarchy to the English ICA is having to face.

The effectiveness of accountancy bodies in this area seems to depend on the political sense of their chief executives. For instance, the CIMA has given space in its official magazine to reformers. and met with critics.

Critical letters and articles have been published and a questionnaire has been used to gauge opinions. A conference on openness is set for October.

Governance has also been a recurring issue for the Institute. On occasions, the membership has asserted itself, for instance, in the 1980s the leadership lost the vote on current cost accounting. More recently, it was defeated at an egm organised by John Cook.

The Institute, too, faces calls for reform and many, like Jeff Wooller, are keen to democratise it. It hasn’t been as flexible as CIMA because the Institute is a more stately and arthritic body. Yet some critical articles and letters have appeared in the official magazine. Like good civil servants officials initiate reports and committees to keep reformers happy.

Compare this to the ACCA. The official magazine is heavily censored.

The organisers of the September 1995 Democracy egm weren’t allowed any articles and reformers are attacked without a ‘right-of-reply’. Critical letters don’t get published while awkward issues are simply censored out.

Last year, Accountancy Age reported that after losses of up to z4m, the ACCA gave its publishing contract to a firm in which the 1995/96 president had a commercial interest. This wasn’t made public during his term. Nor did the official magazine disclose that the ACCA officers had pressurised the employers of one reformer and that 41 MPs had condemned this.

Neither the official magazine nor the annual report told members that for 1992 to 1994 the officeholders’ travel costs came to z74,000, z53,000 and z46,000 respectively. The 1996 agm heard that the year’s chief executive’s spouse accompanied her overseas with costs of z3,000 charged to the ACCA. The outgoing president’s review excludes this fact.

Rather than establishing the ACCA as a market leader, the leadership are more keen to be ‘chartered’. Last year, it chose the title of Chartered Public Accountants (CPA) but the official magazine neglected to report that CPA wasn’t valid in some countries. Nor that 85 MPs urged the Privy Council to scrutinise the ACCA’s claim to be ‘public’. Despite many chances, the ACCA officials couldn’t provide any plausible answers. The Privy Council rejected the name change.

Why do organisations react so differently? It’s not wild enthusiasm for reform. But some officials and councils are willing to roll with demands for reform. Others feel threatened. So they react with the openness and charm of Leonid Brezhnev. And look what happened to his organisation.

Austin Mitchell is Labour MP for Great Grimsby.

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