In the run-up to last summer’s great electives debate, as it will no doubt come to be called, the Big Five said they would look elsewhere unless their demands for the introduction of optional papers to the institute’s syllabus were met, writes Damian Wild.

But after the vote by English ICA members – on a worryingly low turnout, it should be said – rejected the proposal, the rest, as they say, is history.

In January, Ernst & Young was the first firm to switch allegiance to the Scots ICA. English institute president Dame Sheila Masters and secretary John Collier were caught on the back foot when they learnt of the firm’s decision at a cocktail party. And, in a cruel irony, the party followed a crunch council meeting that approved changes to the institute’s syllabus designed to keep the big firms on side.

Since the electives defeat – and for the previous couple of months – it had seemed any proposal put to members would be rejected. That the executive had at last been backed seemed like a turning point. Of course it was not.

Probably the most damaging move came in February when Accountancy Age revealed that PricewaterhouseCoopers was joining the exodus. Again, the institute had no idea of the plan. The firm is now encouraging its new intake of trainees in the Midlands, and a majority in London, to train with the Scottish institute.

Further defections could be on the cards after the Scots institute confirmed it would roll out new training centres south of the border. What should most trouble the English institute executive is the fact that a PwC source said it was the scarcity of training centres that limited the firm to encourage only those students in London and Birmingham to take the Scottish route.

KPMG – where Dame Sheila is a partner – has also begin to make noises about encouraging students to take the Scots path. And with Dame Sheila due to stand down as ICA president in June, it begs the question whether the firm will soon do more than simply encourage students to head north.

So what’s the upshot in figures? With 300 students from E&Y, 285 from PwC and an unspecified number from KPMG set to go on its training scheme in the autumn, the Scots institute has increased numbers from 400 to 650.

When, in January, Accountancy Age reported the aftermath of E&Y’s decision, we said the institute had been ‘hamstrung by the intransigence of a majority of its members’. This prompted an angry postbag from institute members who said it was their democratic right to reject the proposals.

That’s true. But, with firms bailing out of the English ICA left, right and centre, the institute is now left counting the costs of rejection and defection.

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