Whitehall split over qualifieds

Link: Government urged to act on unqualified accountants

It has emerged that, as recently as August, DTI minister Jacqui Smith voiced support for unqualified accountants in a letter seen by Accountancy Age to the Association of Certified Public Accountants.

Smith wrote that restricting the practice of accountancy to individuals who hold certain qualifications would be ‘bureaucratic’, ‘add significantly to costs’ and prove ‘anti-competitive’.

Her opinion struck a very different tone from the ICAEW’s statement a fortnight ago of talks with the Revenue on a publicity campaign to promote the benefits of qualified professionals.

This week, the DTI indicated it was unlikely to back such a scheme, saying: ‘It is for the consumer to decide whether or not to use the services of an accountant who is accredited.’

In a further blow, the Revenue distanced itself from the institute’s claim last week that the taxman could swing behind a publicity campaign.

A spokeswoman said that no discussions had taken place, contradicting the institute’s assertion that ‘preliminary talks’ were in progress. But it later said in a joint statement with the institute that ‘initial meetings’ had occurred.

Members opposed to practice assurance suggested the idea of a government-backed ‘campaign’ was just PR.

Stewart Vine, a member of the institute’s northwest London society, said: ‘It’s another form of blackmail. At the practice assurance roadshow we were told it would further distinguish us from the unqualifieds, leading to a situation where we got the Revenue’s blessing more publicly.’

Far from helping institute members get ahead of their unqualified counterparts, the scheme could make them less competitive by adding to the growing costs of regulation, he added.

Voting continues until 8 June on the adoption of practice assurance, a compulsory review and inspection scheme.

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