Letters – 26 March

Behind the interview

You have, published some excellent articles on job searching and interviews with advice on ‘how to behave’ and questions to ask.

However, there is one important aspect of this subject that appears to have been missed out in almost all articles, that is to question the reason why the previous holder of the position left and how many others have held the position in, say, the previous two years.

As you can guess I, to my cost, was only told about the last incumbent and not the other five permanent and four temporary holders of the position in the previous two years. The reasons became obvious after I joined (even – or was it because – it was a charity).

Also, I found there had been a substantial staff turnover in other sections.

So, don’t just find out about the turnover, profits and so on – but also just what is behind the smooth, sophisticated and inviting interview.

Name and address withheld

Not enough accountants

While having some sympathy with the main thrust of your leader comment (Accountancy Age, 12 March, page 14), I also want to say that the majority of the practising firms of accountants need to be distanced from the big firms in this respect.

In the last year, I have dealt with a charming lady from one of the large firms and a difficult matter with a special compliance office of the Inland Revenue.

During conversations with the lady it became clear that what I always suspected to be the case was true. Namely that, in their drive for more fees, the big firms have been recruiting so many ex-Inland Revenue and ex-Customs & Excise people that there are no accountants with operational control of important departments of the big firms, and certainly no members of any of the accountancy bodies with the technical knowledge to challenge some of the more extreme avoidance suggestions on ethical grounds.

The result is that the big firms have created uncontrolled monsters that are staffed by people with only the barest nodding acquaintance with the ethical guidelines of the accountancy institutes and only eager to demonstrate to their masters that they can out-do and out-think their former colleagues in the government departments.

These developments will, as you say, enable Gordon Brown to tar all accountants with the same brush – and as politicians have no ethical background themselves he will surely do so.

But the ammunition was gifted to him by the senior partners of the large firms who had no thought for what they were doing other than the short-term benefit to the flow of fees to gullible clients (particularly international ones).

DS Tallon, Sharp Parsons Tallon Chartered Accountants, London EC4

Community volunteers

While CSV (Community Service Volunteers) supports Business in the Community in its appeal for accountants to make use of their business skills to help the boards of charitable organisations, (‘Charities call for accountants’, Taking Stock, Accountancy Age, 5 February), ‘people’ skills can make as valuable a contribution as professional skills.

Employee volunteers from companies, including accounting firm KPMG, already enjoy the opportunities created by CSV to make a difference in the local community.

Volunteers use skills unrelated to their profession, and relish the change.

They spend a minimum of 30-40 minutes once a week in a local school, supporting a child’s reading. Their commitment can bring about visible improvements in a child’s reading levels in just a single term.

With benefits to the school, the child, the employer and the employee, this is a win-win situation from which more companies, and children, could benefit. We look forward to your applications.

Chris Snelling FCA, director of finance and administration, CSV (Community Service Volunteers)

‘Crudeness’ of SOFA

Having attempted to put the charities SORP into practice for a membership organisation, it has become patently obvious that the Statement of Financial Activities (SOFA) is nothing more than a crude attempt to combine an income and expenditure account and a cashflow statement, with a dash of current cost accounting thrown in for good measure.

Frankly, the combination does not work, and the result is unintelligible to anybody outside the charity commissioners. The SOFA becomes an academic exercise prepared, at great cost in time and professional fees, purely to satisfy statutory requirements.

The principal problems that I have encountered are the inclusion of unrealised profits as income credited to reserves, and the appallingly simplistic approach to life memberships which becomes unworkable if the proportion of life members is much above 5% of the total membership or if it is desired to use an actuarial approach.

I dare say other readers will have encountered similar problems in other areas.

It is also apparent that the ICA has become so bogged down in navel-gazing that it has lost, or is failing to exercise, the function of vetting proposed legislation so that nonsensical measures are weeded out before they reach the statute book.

This applies particularly to taxation issues when the profession is reduced to responding to government measures – instead of using its expertise to argue forcibly and effectively for a simplified and fairer tax system.

Would it be fair to presume that more complex legislation is welcomed to generate more fee income for the big boys who still run the profession?

BH Worboys FCA, Broomfield, Essex

If only computers could read …

The self-assessment tax calculations issued for 1996/1997 gave no detail of the figures such as gross income and tax deducted at source, and in many cases it has proved impossible to reconcile these figures with information on file without resort to a further letter to the tax office.

This is despite the covering letter sending in tax returns that specifically asks for such detail, and in no case has it been supplied with the aforementioned calculations.

We are all aware that computers cannot read, but surely someone in the tax office reads the incoming letters or passes to someone who can.

I strongly urge the Treasury to issue a directive to every tax office in the country that this information must be attached to the tax calculations in future.

G Connelly FCA, Newbury, Berkshire

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