Comment – Keep the poetry in accounting

Congratulations on becoming president of the English ICA. You have always been brave enough to admit your ambition when lesser men or women may have deflected the question.

Let us hope the reality matches the desire. Famed for your radicalism and feared for your intellect, as you settle into the president’s office you have already signalled your determination to promote change.

‘New president heralds new era at institute’, said the headline in the release confirming your appointment which, if not exactly from the Sun style of headline writing, is still a pretty bold claim.

The justification for the headline is that you have made a commitment to ‘re-examine every part of the organisation and its activities to ensure the long-term interest of the members’. You have pledged yourself to the development of a strategic plan which will be the focus of your year in office.

The component parts of that strategic plan may seem pretty familiar to most members: education and training; continuing professional development; professional standards; and the regulation review.

The difference is that you are determined to move forward decisively on some of these long-running, thorny issues.

You know the problems though. For instance, the regulation review proposals for professional bodies, shaped by you, are in the hands of a distinctly unenthusiastic Department of Trade and Industry, put off – despite your best efforts – by the lack of unity among the accountancy bodies. And there is one other issue that implicitly underpins all others but which is rarely given a voice.

Ian Hay Davison – the best president the institute never had and the winner of the 1998 Founding Societies’ Award – has been the most recent and high-profile member to join the growing chorus that suggests the institute is becoming increasingly irrelevant, especially for members in business.

The fear is that the institute is a passive player in a world that is passing it by, especially now business schools are rivalling its traditional role of providing good business training.

You are on public record as saying that you keep your books of poetry closer to hand than accounting standards. Among your collection surely is the works of Shelley. Indeed you can probably recite by heart that A-level student favourite, ‘Ozymandias’.

‘Look on my works, ye Mighty,

and despair

Nothing beside remains.

Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck,

boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch

far away.’

Your greatest challenge is to reverse the strong perception that the institute is an antique monument set in a desert of irrelevance. Good luck.

Peter Williams, chartered accountant, is editor of the newsletter Electronic Finance.

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