View from the House – Jim Cousins

The British accountancy industry is in a powerful position to influence the development of international accountancy standards and regulation.

Its success will bring extra jobs and financial sector trade surpluses to the UK.

But it will be necessary for UK industry to tackle issues of ethnicity and gender in its own ‘command control’ structures.

The Human Rights Act 1998 will have a significant impact on the ethical, disciplinary and governance processes of all accountancy bodies. They will need to ensure they hold fair elections; presidents should not be able to cast 20 to 25% of all the votes and thereby ‘appoint’ Councils.

The Act would also exert pressures on the accountancy bodies to demonstrate policies for dealing with members and the general public are fair.

The work of the ‘Women in Accountancy’ group must grow. To show an attack on discrimination, accountancy bodies need data. Unlike many other organisations they have been reluctant to collect data.

CIMA has shown little interest in building a database about the ‘ethnic’ composition of its students and members, and the employment difficulties faced by them. The English ICA undertakes ‘ethnic monitoring’ of its student intake, but has done little to tackle the pitiful level of Afro-Caribbean trainees by major firms.

After pressure from the Commission for Racial Equality, ACCA undertook an ‘ethnicity’ survey of its UK membership; 50% was estimated to be non-white. Yet none of its officeholders have been non-white.

Many members serve ethnic entrepreneurs, and often complain traditional auditing standards do not serve them well. Until the mid-1990s, most ACCA committees did not have any non-white representation. Its sole practitioners continued to be under represented. The recent survey should be extended to cover students, and develop policies to promote disadvantaged members.

In a world of inequalities, all accountancy bodies should develop policies to help their members secure rewarding jobs. In turn, the British accountancy industry will be rewarded.

Jim Cousins is Labour MP for Newcastle Central.

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