At a meeting in London on Monday what had been deemed ‘exploratory’ talks about ‘consolidation’ rapidly crystallised into rhetoric about ‘historic opportunity’ and even open use of the previously shunned merger word.
Much of the detail is yet to be fleshed out, but what Mike Barnes, the CIPFA president, labelled a ‘road map’, set out a vision of a 200,000 member strong organisation with a £100m turnover led by one president, one council and one chief executive.
In a move designed to assuage the fears of those who oppose the merger, it was pledged that existing members would be allowed to keep their designatory letters and titles. The three bodies would also retain their separate qualifications for the time being.
In a joint statement, the institutes said: ‘Government and industry need a single overarching body with whom they can engage.’
A merged body is being sold as a ‘dream ticket’ because it would cover accountants in practice, business and the public services, while offering greater resources and international influence. The institutes admitted they would have to do a better job of selling their case than in previous merger attempts to secure the two thirds majority required from their members.
Initial reaction to this week’s announcement highlighted the difficulties that the three institutes will face in turning their vision into a reality, but also provided grounds for hope.
ICAEW members emphasised the need for a widespread and informed debate. Hamish Masson, its southeast regional manager, said: ‘This time the membership is much more open to consider the proposals.’
But Dr Jeff Wooller, who leads the ‘Ginger Group’ of ICAEW members, which has opposed previous mergers, vowed it would fight what he described as ‘treachery’. ‘Initially ICAEW members are being asked to vote in favour of a super-institute where the examinations systems and qualifications remain intact. But later the council of the super-institute will be able to make changes to both examinations systems and qualifications,’ he said. The institutes plan to take the case for the merger to their members between now and December, before putting the proposal to a member ballot around March 2005. Before the vote goes ahead the three governing councils would have to grant their approval, but it emerged that could pose problems despite assurances they have already agreed ‘in principle’. One CIMA council member told Accountancy Age that many of her colleagues were caught off guard by the strength and breadth of this week’s announcement, having agreed only to further consultation. Jon Crockett, president of CIPFA in the Midlands, said it was an exciting prospect for rationalisation. ‘Our strengths are diluted by the fact that we have competing institutes. I don’t think the public understands why we have six all purporting to represent the profession,’ he said.
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