Elaine Clark wants accountancy voucher power

REALLY INTRIGUED by Accountancy Age Power-Lister Elaine Clark, who has started a government e-petition, calling for an ‘Accountants Voucher Scheme’.

The scheme intends to help the ever-increasing number of self-employed manage their financial and tax affairs. In effect, the government should pay the first £300 of advice received by these first-time start-ups.

It’s a fascinating, clever idea from Clark.

At its worst, the idea is a nice publicity drive for not only Elaine’s business, but the profession as a whole.

So should the government do it? Well, it could be argued that the amount of work that advisors now undertake on behalf of HMRC to help clients pay the right tax bill (very often unbillable hours) certainly begs some ‘payback’.

Sorting out UK micro-biz’s back office is definitely a sentiment backed by the coalition – business record checks anyone?

But giveaways aren’t really in this government’s plans.

And for some of the self-employed scraping a living through cash-in-hand, the subsequent lower-than-it-should-be tax bill will continue to prove attractive. Going to an accountant would probably seem pointless.

The idea of ‘free advice’ isn’t totally new – the ICAEW offers the Business Advice Service, basically a free consultation through its member practices.

Would 300 quid’s worth of advice be good for firms? On the whole, yes.

Do they really need it? Well, I think they should be able to look after themselves really. Strong practices with a good understanding of their marketplace should be able to tick along nicely – see Beever & Struthers’s Paul Wilson, who has picked up lots of disgruntled employees who have branched out on their own.

There’ll also be some accountants that will get little value from some of these voucher-touting clients. In such circumstances you’ll end up with a disgruntled accountant, and ex-clients unimpressed with the service they’re provided.

Personally, I’d like the government to focus more on the importance of personal and corporate financial management within the national curriculum – perhaps even extolling the virtues of the accounting profession. Perhaps it’s not even about the children.

Maybe the coalition just needs to force banks to work more closely with their local practices to help with access to finance for their clients.

What if first-time self-assessment registrants must go on a one-day course to take them through some of the rules and regs they’ll face – perhaps presented by accountants rather than the taxman/BERR?

If Clark can free up some funding, then great. However, driving the importance of accountants, through her publicity and maybe even some education, might prove an all-round better outcome.

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