Peter Mitchell: Feisty campaigner


Two of the UK’s most important accounting bodies are being kept on their toes by Peter Mitchell, chairman of the Society of Professional Accountants.

Mitchell criticised the Professional Oversight Board (POB) in a letter arguing that it was looking to increase regulation on already over-regulated accountants rather than focusing on managing the unqualified subset of the industry. He also questioned its board experience in dealing with SME matters.

The society is also negotiating with the ICAEW on the institute’s plans to replace its practice advisory board with a new structure to serve the interests of smaller firms.

What’s happened?

Institutes were warned that they would have to up their game in terms of monitoring and regulating practices, in a POB report.

An eight-point plan was issued by the board, including a call for their visits to firms to comprehensively review ethics procedures and complaints policies.

The profession bemoaned the report’s findings, flagging up the already overloaded regulatory weight forced on smaller practices.

“The ICAEW leaves no stone unturned [in a monitoring visit], it does too much as it is,” said Barry Lewis, senior partner at Harris Lipman. “POB wants them to look at the plumbing as well.”

In Mitchell’s letter to the POB, the society also referred to many of the criticisms that had been laid down. However, his response took another tack – one not followed in other responses to the report.

He called into question POB’s lack of SME board experience, and asked them to prove that they had the right backgrounds to make such calls.

“Regrettably, we are unable to identify amongst your board those members who may represent, or have extensive experience of working with, the SME sector of our profession and shall be grateful if you will confirm who these may be, or how input from this sector has been obtained in your consultations.”

Mitchell has always been a feisty campaigner, as anyone who has attended an ICAEW council meeting would testify.

Along with looking after the interests of the 1,400 practices he can count as members of the society he formed in 1996, he runs a two partner firm – Peter Mitchell & Co – in Buckinghamshire. And Bucks is part of the ICAEW region he represents as a council member.

With both his council and SPA hats on, Mitchell is involved in making sure that the institute comes up with a viable alternative to its ill-fated advisory board structure, which just three years after being formed, was canned.

It disbanded its advisory board system, including the practice arm, in an attempt to streamline its system of dealing with the various strands of its membership. Mitchell had already bemoaned their introduction, particularly as the practice board had replaced the long-running general practitioners panel.

“It acted as a blocking filter,” said Mitchell of the practice advisory board.

What’s going to happen?

Meetings have already taken place between the SPA and ICAEW in terms of what can replace the practice advisory board.

Mitchell has warned the institute that unless a new structure was in place by the early months of 2011, it would leave a “black hole” for communicating with small practices.
It must have appropriate representation to promote them, he added. The board had
previously operated with former E&Y senior partner Nick Land as chairman.

“Our principle concern was [the ICAEW] identified someone very high up – who would not necessarily have relevant experience or understanding of the needs and pressure of high street accountants,” said Mitchell.

In fairness to the ICAEW, Mitchell has also stated that there was “considerable goodwill on both sides” to create a successful strategy.

He remained quiet on the question of whether he would apply for a role in any new structure.

As far as questioning the relevant experience in POB’s board is concerned, Mitchell told Accountancy Age that he was expectantly awaiting a response.

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