Accountants given four weeks to argue profession is not anti-competitive

Among the areas under investigation by the OFT are fee scales and regulations affecting charges, a measure which many believe is intended to root out so called ‘fat cats’ in the profession.

OFT officers will also be looking to see if restrictions on entry to the profession are too tight.

The investigation was announced by chancellor Gordon Brown in his March 2000 Economic and Fiscal Strategy Report.

Ministers have insisted the inquiry concentrate on the ‘more economically significant professions’ and will also focus on lawyers in a addition to auditors, insolvency practitioners and actuaries. Pharmacists, architects, engineers and surveyors may also receive a close examination.

John Bridgeman, director general of fair trading, said: ‘Customers need a choice of professional services which are provided efficiently and to a high standard.

‘This can only be achieved if the professions are competitive and unfettered by unnecessary restrictions and free to adopt business practices best suited to meeting their clients’ requirements.’

Representatives from the profession have already come forward to say accountants have nothing to fear from the OFT.

Peter Owen, executive director of the Professional Standards Office of the English ICA, said the profession was already open and the restrictions that did exist were only in place to ‘protect the public’.

He said: ‘It’s not a very closed profession, we don’t just have a single professional body.’

Many in the profession believe the OFT was taken by surprise when asked to look at accountancy, though the investigation appears to follow on from concerns at the Treasury over the exclusion of accountancy from the Competition Act, which came into force on 1 March this year, is distorting the market.

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