View from the House – Austin Mitchell

The UK accountancy bodies have always behaved like trade associations, not guardians of the public interest. They seek economic advantages for their members. They lobby government departments to protect their interests.

They aim to shift the tax burdens from the rich to the poor.

Yet their PR still claims that accountancy is a profession – independent, respectable and principled – and that accountants individually accept responsibility for their judgements and that they themselves serve the public interest, accountability and transparency. It’s all a 19th century myth.

Personal responsibility is now increasingly replaced by incorporation of firms. LLPs will, they hope, finalise this process. Rather than ethics, social responsibility and professional judgement, accountants shelter behind the latest accounting and auditing standards and their self-protecting ingenuities.

The accountancy bodies claim to serve ‘the public interest’ but, when I asked them how, none could indicate its meaning. Nor could they point me to any part of their syllabuses which encourages accountants to reflect on ‘whose interest is the public interest’.

Accountancy firms rarely publish any meaningful information about their own affairs but they want it from everyone else.

The accountancy bodies hide behind claims of ethics and transparency, but rarely apply either to their own affairs. The English ICA ‘open’ council meetings are a sham. ACCA and CIMA keep the public well away, and when I asked why ACCA had mysteriously dumped an officer, I was told it was its own business not mine.

All companies publish details of the highest-paid executive’s salary.

CIMA does not. ACCA officeholders take spouses and ‘partners’ on worldwide travels at the members’ expense, but the annual report fails to disclose who paid for whom.

Under pressure, ACCA’s chief executive has been obliged to give the figures to the Privy Council Office, but the annual accounts remain silent. My enquiries get one-line replies inviting me to rearrange two words to form a well-known English phrase or expression. So much for the public interest.

Austin Mitchell is Labour MP for Great Grimsby.

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