In one sense, ACCA’s merger proposal breaks new ground by appealing over the heads of the councils and assuming that members will react positively to a set of principles.
But the experience of the last 15 years shows that life is not like that.
We can all agree, and have agreed, on the principle of rationalisation – but what does it actually mean? It needs definition. There are deep differences between ACCA and CIPFA over education and training, on open access for example. Can that be ignored?
Even if successful, what is proposed would create a deep division in the UK profession between the institutes of chartered accountants and the new body. What would that do for the prestige of the profession?
Change will continue at a rapid rate. How will two competing groups within the profession respond to that? The likelihood is that, for one body, the other will become the enemy, resulting in a reinforced tendency to look inward.
The ACCA proposal does not address the inherent tension between business and technical education and training needs, nor the move to competencies.
Will the proposal really do that much for members’ interests? Most unlikely, since there will be a wide spread of interests within the new body’s membership.
If anything, the pressure will be to keep subscriptions down. What is needed is intellectual leadership and that means investment in people and research; only CIPFA spends disproportionately on that and CIPFA is a very small partner.
The risk therefore is that the new body will focus on its members and their interests. While that may be seen as ‘a good thing’, it is not what professional bodies are supposed to be about. Public interest is paramount, and a major failure by the profession has been its inability to demonstrate it has the public interest at heart. This proposal does not do that.
Something more radical is needed. Something that builds on the best brand name, ‘chartered accountant’, recognises the division of business and technical interests in the profession and can demonstrate that it has the public interest firmly as its objective.
Noel Hepworth was director of CIPFA from 1978 to 1996.
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