Using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Will any good come from the long-running row over the ICAEW’s plans to reform its district societies? The special general meeting, forced by opponents of the changes, is set to cost £100,000 – which works out about #100 per signature on the requisition.

Some members have rightly questioned whether this is the best use of their membership fees, although they shouldn’t forget that part of the cost comes from hiring a venue while £250,000 is spent refurbishing the Great Hall at Moorgate Place.

But those same people should not lose sight of the fact that, under their by-laws, members are perfectly entitled to request such a meeting.

The institute should now give serious consideration to changing the number of signatures required to call such a meeting, and also look into how those signatures should be collected. After all the ACCA, albeit from a far lower base, did it last year.

It seems obtuse that a hard copy signature – with no back up information such as membership number – should be required, and yet the institute allowed faxed requests to withdraw support.

Members should also ask themselves why it is that a disaffected group feels driven to take such action. The institute claims it has consulted with the membership over the reform plans, but it is not clear just how many members fully understood the proposals.

Without question, there has been a breakdown in communications.

And now the institute is throwing its full weight – president, deputy president and vice president – behind a campaign to win the argument. It now looks like a case of too much, too late.

Some of the institute’s tactics have come under fire, and the jury is still out on whether it was right to use the requisition signatures to make contact with the disgruntled members.

The institute has argued that the plans have moved on since many members originally signed the requisition, but how well were those changes communicated?

‘Sensitively, and with flexibility,’ is one of the stock phrases being wheeled out by the institute as it describes how the plans are being implemented.

Perhaps the institute should have been more sensitive to the growing storm in South Essex. As it is, no one will emerge from this unseemly affair with any credit.

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