Letters – 20 August

Has Hector got it wrong, then?

You may be interested in a conversation I recently had with an inspector of taxes, in connection with the completion of a tax return for one of my clients.

The client had been involved in a complicated transaction and I telephoned his inspector to ask for guidance as to how this transaction should be shown on the return. He said it was not Inland Revenue policy to offer any guidance at all but that it was up to the taxpayer or his agent to ensure the return was completed correctly.

It was ironic that I had on my desk at the time the complete Revenue return pack which, as we all know, includes a piece of paper upon which the dearly beloved Hector is saying: ‘Don’t forget, we’re here to help’. I pointed this out to the inspector, who remained totally unmoved.

I then suggested that perhaps the paper should be redesigned to include what is clearly the correct message, that is: ‘We the taxpayers are here to help it – the Inland Revenue’.

The inspector’s response was just to say that the Revenue would not be drawn on any such matters for discussion.

D Turner, Enfield, Middlesex

A worthwhile exercise

What a refreshing change for members of our profession to be consulted first about a possible merger of their various institutes. ACCA president Michael Foulds has made it clear that the object of the exercise is to sound out grassroots opinion before thousands of pounds and man hours are expended.

Opinions will vary as to whether or not a merger ought to take place, but it beggars belief that this new and sensible approach should be criticised.

Will the critics never learn from the pathetic picture of our profession that its history provides? As Mike Foulds says, if members are not in favour we can revert to business as usual. Whatever the outcome, surely the exercise will be invaluable.

Like the English ICA, the ACCA is an all-purpose accountancy body and has to make the biggest sacrifice in merging with two specialist regimes.

Nevertheless, I shall vote in favour, as we really must make a supreme effort to put our house in order.

John Addison, Sussex

Be positive please, CIMA

I am disappointed with CIMA’s attitude to ACCA’s merger proposals.

To reject them outright because ACCA thought it better to consult members first is a mistake, if CIMA really believes in the rationalisation of the UK accountancy profession.

The merger has been labelled a ‘takeover by ACCA’, which is a complete nonsense; the real takeover of CIMA was its ‘merger’ proposals with the English ICA – yet CIMA gave that its full support. If CIMA wishes to bring in the English ICA then why not wait until the present merger goes through? Why not rationalise the profession by mergers in stages?

CIMA should be more positive about the proposals, accept them in principle and negotiate on points that are causing them concern. I, for one, fully support the proposals in principle.

HA Chishtie, FCMA, Leeds

Scapegoating us isn’t fair …

I am somewhat surprised by the comments from Doug Smith, Inland Revenue director of business operations, about chartered accountants whose clients miss the self-assessment deadlines (30 July).

He seems to be suggesting that this is the accountants’ fault and is going to urge the institute to get tough with us – as if they needed any prompting from him.

I, like many chartered accountants that I speak to, am somewhat disappointed by the Revenue’s lack of ‘toughness’ on errant taxpayers. For most of 1997, I and others have been using the threat of penalties, interest, enquiries, and so on, to get clients up to date, telling tales of the numerous horrors that would befall them after 31 January 1998.

To date, not one of my clients who had not filed a return has been troubled by the Revenue. At most, they have been sent a statement of account showing a #100 penalty. One of my clients has told me that he will not bother doing a return for 1998 since his brother had not done one for 1997 and no-one had bothered him.

If Mr Smith wants self-assessment to work, he should ensure the Revenue has the resources to work it. At one time, we only had clients blaming us for everything that goes wrong. Now the Revenue is joining in.

JA Poole, FCA, Alan Poole & Co, Stoke-on-Trent

Top 50 reply

I refer to your league table of the top 50 accountancy firms in the UK (30 July, page 12). Unfortunately, you omitted Reeves & Neylan from the list.

The result of Reeves & Neylan’s English and Scottish practices based on accounts to March 1998 indicate a combined turnover of #9.3m up from #8m in 1996/1997.

This would rate Reeves & Neylan at 29 in your league.

This represents 16% gross for the year, which takes into account the firm’s merger with the four-partner practice Judkins in Rochester in May 1997.

The Reeves & Neylan English and Scottish practices consist of 29 full-time partners located in 13 offices. I only draw this to your attention for the sake of completeness.

Clive Stevens, managing partner, Reeves & Neylan, Kent

Editor replies: Reeves & Neylan’s Perth office was contacted but did not return our survey

Tried and tested abroad

Richard Baron’s concept of self-assessment based on unadjusted statutory accounts is not new.

This system was used in Liberia in the early 1960s and, coupled with a severe penalties regime, worked very efficiently.

I believe the Inland Revenue staff for the whole country was less than ten.

Unfortunately, someone decided the system was too simple and a large firm of accountants was asked for advice, with predictable results.

Alan Dodd, Newark, Notts

Misjudged witnesses

Having read your article (13 August) on the English ICA litigation support group, I am surprised at the points it raises. As I was at the initial meeting, I can assure you that as yet it is only a support group; there are no plans to make it a full faculty. At this stage, we are looking at whether a need exists and, if so, what it is.

The points from the other expert witness groups are also misjudged. The point we felt is that there is no group dealing with the accountants’ expertise in expert witness work. Many of us attending are members of the three groups mentioned and they play a valuable role, but none are able to assist accountants specifically.

Indeed, none claim to assist any particular expertise above that of their other members.

As a group, our main interest is to improve the quality of accountancy expert witness work, whoever produces it. Surely that is an aim that all in the field would support, be they expert witnesses, lawyers (who have various overlapping special interest groups) or barristers.

Tim Vogel, BSc, ACA, Fakenham, Norfolk

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