Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

Monthly Archives: December 2007


Christmas is the time when many media channels indulge in a little fun and trivia – the things that have little consequence in the world and which if taken to extremes at other times of year would mark you out as an eccentric or worse. Bloggers are no exception. Even so, I couldn’t bring myself to bother to comment on the result of the leadership election of the People’s Front of Judea Judean People’s Front Liberal Democrats.

A Merry Christmas to my reader(s). I’m off to do some Christmas shopping. Then again, we’ve still got four days….


What’s In A Name?

When is an accountant not an accountant? When they are not a Chartered Accountant, Chartered Certified Accountant or the like, according to the CCAB*, the umbrella body that represents the accountancy profession’s governing bodies. A campaign is being planned to persuade the government to legally define and control the term “accountant” to ensure that only those suitably qualified are able to use the term.

My own professional body, the ACCA, has written to me:

As a member, you are a qualified and regulated professional. At present, professionally qualified accountants must compete in a marketplace against unqualified providers of accountancy services who are free to describe themselves as accountants.

The CCAB, the umbrella body for the UK’s six professional accountancy bodies, which includes ACCA/ICAS/ICAEW/CIPFA/CIMA/ICAI, believes that this situation is confusing to the public and inadequate in terms of consumer protection. On the rare occasions when a qualified accountant makes a mistake, the public has redress through a regulatory regime that does not apply to unqualifieds. This is clearly unfair.

So what’s wrong with that, you may ask? Indeed, the profession is hoping you would say that.

One could suggest that the CCAB’s position is being somewhat dishonest here (nay, unprofessional?) – not because the profession is trying to erect barriers to entry to the market, which is a natural instinct and understandable, given the opportunity presented to them – but because the profession will, and is, claiming that it is in the “public interest”. That is a dishonest position – it’s not the public interest, it’s the profession’s interest. As George Bernard Shaw said, “All professions are a conspiracy against the laity”.

Putting all that aside, I still don’t agree with the idea, even as a qualified accountant myself. It is the profession trying to use the power of the state to protect itself from the competition. Just as the established players in any profession or trade will support more regulation of their industry, it serves not the public but those already in the market.

If the accountancy profession wants to reduce the disparity between the qualified sector and the rest, then they should be agitating for less regulation of themselves. Nearly fifteen years after audit regulation came in, with countless forests wasted in order to have the right bits of paper on the client file, and boxes ticked, has it really done anything to improve the quality of audits – certainly not in proportion to the increase in time spent and fees charged. Of course, auditing has long been closed off to non-qualified accountants, but it is a classic example of the folly of regulation as a driver to increase the quality of the product: it still can’t beat the good old free market – as long as that market is allowed to be free. It is in the public interest to reduce regulation, not erect ever higher barriers, as the profession is now trying to do.

In the survey that qualified accountants are being encouraged to take, one question asks whether the term “accountant” should be protected for those in business (i.e. commerce/industry), those in practice, both, or “don’t know”. There was no “neither/none of the above” option.

So perhaps many people don’t appreciate the difference between an “accountant” and Chartered or Chartered Certified Accountant. Does it really matter so much? What happens if they get bad service? The same as with any service – they use their rights under the law, statutory and/or common, to obtain redress and their rights as a purchaser to switch suppliers.

If you are selecting a builder, how many people ask to see copies of the builder’s City and Guilds qualifications, or confirmation of their ISO certification? Very few – the best way is to ask around for recommendations from others.

There could be a sweet irony in all this though. If the profession gets its way and “unqualified” accountants now have to be regulated in some way – and that will probably be some sort of annual registration and framework of box ticking – sorry, I mean “quality assurance” – then they may well face more competition from the unqualified sector, as the “unqualifieds” will then be able to parade their state registered credentials alongside the qualified professionals. By going some way to levelling the playing field the profession may achieve exactly the opposite of what underpins their current moves. And it would serve the profession right.

Of course, once the dust has settled the only other things that would have changed will be that the public will still pay more for the same service. Never mind: it’s all in the public interest, isn’t it?

*CCAB – the Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies

Feathering the nest while you have the chance

Labour councillors seek higher pay, more perks and better pensions.
Hmm, so just as the latest local government finance deal shifts ever more resources to Labour heartlands in the North, a report commissioned for the government proposes pay rises, more perks and other de-restrictions on councillors, which will primarily benefit … councillors in Labour heartlands.

Underpinning the report, we are told, is the desire to reinvigorate local democracy – increasing turnout, widening the range of backgrounds of councillors, etc.

We have seen many attempts to increase turnout over the last ten years. Increasing postal voting, electronic voting, polling booths in supermarkets, and now a lottery whereby voting enters you in a prize draw. The more ideas, and the wackier, that the government comes up with, the more obvious becomes the elephant in the room – voting at weekends. Surely the government reticence about simply changing the voting day has nothing to do with the fact that such a change would almost certainly benefit the Conservatives more than Labour?

Then there is the issue of attracting a wider range of people into local politics. The biggest single problem with local government is that in so many policy areas, the local council sometimes seems to be little more than a branch office of Whitehall. Whether it’s ring-fenced funding, money to “incentivise” cash-strapped authorities to toe a government line, rafts of government targets, or token devolution of powers without the corresponding funding streams, power is either being centralised or the gerrymandering of the finance system means that councils are in a financial straightjacket that serious limits the power of councillors, and thus the value of the local election vote.

Not that my own party has clean hands on this one, I admit – for all the many great things that Margaret Thatcher did, her centralising of power from local level to Whitehall was not one of her finer achievements – though it must be noted, it was largely driven by the actions of the loony left councils.

Nevertheless, we do now seem to have a Labour Party, knowing that its days in power are numbered taking the opportunity to bolster its grassroots base ready for the rebuilding process that will follow their defeat in the General Election.

Oh, of course, it’s an independent commission. My mistake.

OK, dull councillor rant over. I’ve got work to do.

Sounds like a job for the OFT

Supermarket firms Sainsbury’s and Asda have admitted that they were part of a dairy price-fixing group that earned about £270m extra from shoppers. (BBC)

So let’s see if I’ve got this right: It’s wrong for supermarkets to collude to artificially increase consumer prices, but it’s OK for governments to do so through the Common Agricultural Policy.

The Donorgate thing

So during my blogging holiday the whole donorgate thing has erupted. Frankly, plenty has been said already elsewhere, but I might as well have my two pennorth.

What is interesting is how Mr Abrahams (or whatever he’s calling himself this month) is not exactly jumping to his party’s defence – to the contrary, he seems to be carefully stirring the contents of the pot just at the right moment – like last weekend when he pointed out how many Labour officials & politicos really knew about his (ahem) perfectly innocent and well-intentioned yet elaborate scheme to hide his donating efforts to the party.

Could it be that he is not really a Brown fan? That the end of the Labour government is going to happen anyway, so let’s get it overwith? It can’t be that he still harbours resentment over his own short lived time as a parliamentary candidate for Labour. Perhaps his loyalty to the party these days only lasted as long as the period until a certain development got the go-ahead? Or is it just that he has discovered just how nasty Labour can get once you’ve outlived your usefulness.

All this, of course, is great fun to watch, especially for more seasoned Conservatives who had been through the dark days of the mid-Nineties when nothing went right for the party. John Major could have personally discovered the cure for all cancer but still the floating voters wouldn’t have given a fig and the media would have been more interested in the latest details of David Mellor’s sexual exploits.

Except it may not turn out so fun if the events are made to play into the hands of those who would imbezzle apply taxpayers’ money into state funding of political parties. It is the standard response of some groups of politicians that is something is going wrong, then it must be nationalised because the state always does such a better job of it. And so, when Labour donations are drying up because the party is haemorrhaging members, nationalisation of party politics is seen as the easy option.

No, no, no. As it happens, I’m not sure how much appetite there is among Labour activists either for it – especially when someone mentions the possibility of the BNP getting their hands on any funding. Would it not be ironic when a neo-fascist party proves a major factor in preventing yet another small but unwarranted expansion of the state?