Letters – 28 May

Accountants in outer space

Thank you for publishing various letters from Jeff Wooller and Prem Sikka over the last few weeks, months, years. It allows me to skip over acres of column inches to get to the parts of your magazine that relate to accountants currently living and working on this planet.

‘Ann Alien’, London

No Treasury snub for NAO

Your headline ‘Treasury ignores NAO’ (14 May) provides a new definition of ‘ignores’.

For the record, in my evidence to the Public Accounts Committee on 11 May, I said that the concerns of the Treasury on resource-based supply mirrored exactly those of the National Audit Office; that there was close co-ordination between us in the approval process, and that the Treasury was rephrasing its overall question to the committee in the light of some reservations, including those of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Andrew Likierman, head of the Government Accountancy Service

Debate on E&T is vital

With reference to David Miller’s piece (9 April), if only council could be like Mr Miller! Yes, why debate fundamental changes?

After all, if those most concerned with training have concluded that what the future needs (in the words of the English ICA’s education and training green paper) is an added-value business adviser, why should lesser mortals (and members) wish for anything else?

We really do need to look carefully at paragraph 49 of ‘Creating the Added Value Business Adviser’ and understand the message it contains.

Perhaps Mr Miller is telling us something?

But Mr Miller, both you, I and all our fellow institute members are jointly bound by the charter to uphold its objects. It is at least from here that authority for change can be derived, not just a consultation paper – but you know this.

Despite the considerable merits that underpin the proposals now out for consultation, without absolute clarity of what we shall achieve – not now but in, say, ten years from now – and what this means in a constitutional sense, we will have failed jointly in our duty to the future of our institute.

Mr Cooke was moving in the right direction when he last challenged the E&T proposals. A member – ACA – on the face of it should be in every sense a well-qualified accountant not requiring a future course of formal E&T to fit him for the world. We all recognise that this is no longer the liberal and free place it once was and that regulation is the recognised panacea to counter public criticism of apparent official failure – however misplaced this may be.

But the fitness of new members may be merely the theory of the thing.

Perhaps the E&T processes and those in charge of them are failing to deliver even what our charter requires?

I fear we are now too far down the path of fundamental change not to support the main purposes of the proposals. We already perhaps recognise this in PC requirements? And the latest proposals contain within the terminology, as well as the strategy, fundamental change.

We must reflect on what we are empowered to do and what we must do for the future. And when the two solutions do not easily fit, it is then we must find a solution. Are we at this point now? Without debate, can we be certain?

TJ Grove, FCA, Purley, Surrey

Of whoppers and Poppers

Mr Worboys (‘Letters’, 7 May, page 13) makes an excellent satirical point about the interpretation of the term ‘falsifiable’ in relation to the government’s report on the state of the nation.

While the electorate is rightly concerned to learn about the ease with which official announcements can mislead, I am under the impression that when the Institute of Fiscal Studies requested ‘falsifiable statements’ in this report, it was actually referring to the work of the scientific philosopher Karl Popper.

Popper emphasised the benefits of testing scientific theories thoroughly and discarding those that were not supported by the evidence. In order to test a theory, one needs to be aware of what evidence would refute it: which was what Popper referred to as ‘falsifiability’.

Similarly with economic and social policies. For example, economic policies are, one hopes, based on theories about how the economy works – monetarism, Keynesianism, and so on – and since these theories are contradictory, they cannot all be true.

Now, if no-one is clear about the events or conditions under which each of those theories could be disproved, it is difficult to assess the policies critically, and they will remain in place through force of inertia even when they are doing damage to society.

My only reservation about this view of policy is that society is not run ‘under laboratory conditions’, which often makes interpreting the evidence very difficult.

William Arthurs, ACA, ACIS, London SW16

What a bloody business!

If auditors turn up after the battle and bayonet the wounded (‘Taking Stock’, 30 April), does this mean that regulators turn up even later at the field hospital and bayonet the doctors?

Ian McKechnie, Ipswich

Councils feel audit pinch

I refer to the article ‘Parish audits rocket’ (7 May).

As a member of the Sussex branch of the Society of Local Council Clerks, I was well aware of the difficulties experienced by some of my colleagues in West Sussex who were audited by Coopers & Lybrand last year.

As a branch, we have written to the Audit Commission to support them.

One would agree with Graham Marsden that time should be paid for, but he needs to be asked why so much time was taken on the audits.

In this case, there is plenty of evidence to support the fact that the staff sent to carry out the audits were inexperienced and lacked basic knowledge of parish council audit. Added to this, most parish clerks are not financially qualified, and need courteous help and advice from their auditor. This was not forthcoming from Coopers. They appeared to just want to build up their fees. It is time these big firms stopped treating small customers in this shoddy way.

Own up, Coopers, and give credit on these ridiculous accounts and recruit some public-sector auditors if you really want the business. Own up, Audit Commission. This is not value for money and, in this case, quality has been compromised at higher cost.

Polegate’s income is just over #100,000 a year. My district audit account increased by a third, because of the implications of the account and audit regulations, from 15 hours to 20. I wonder how this compares with the 30 parish councils in dispute?

RC Tice, town clerk, Polegate, East Sussex

Taxman is in for a penny

In answer to H Poole’s letter (7 May), if the Revenue was not interested in pennies why have we got ‘tax bills’ for 20p in the office – double standards or EDS strikes again!

Tony Taylor, Harborne, Birmingham

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