Letters – 21 January

Why cry over spilt milk?

Re: Railtrack sale (7 January). The National Audit Office report to which you refer appears to be yet another example of public money being spent to denigrate the last Conservative government or glamorise the present shower.

While hindsight is a wonderful thing, it is surely no part of any objective audit to fantasise on where we might now be if we had started from somewhere else at a different time. The then Conservative government was committed and mandated to privatise British Rail, but had to do this against the spoiling tactics of a Labour party that, with an election a couple of years away, was threatening to renationalise it, possibly without proper compensation, if it were to get into power. It was this threat that made delay or phasing of privatisation impractical.

The NAO shows itself to be less than professional and impartial in ignoring these circumstances. If blame is to be allocated, step forward the Labour Party!

David Milligan FCA, Andover, Hants

Remember the figures I read with interest ‘CIMA claims victory over CIPFA in NHS membership battle’ (7 January; but was rather confused by CIPFA’s spokeswoman’s quote ‘15,000 qualified members and 1,500 students in the NHS’.

When the issue of the ACCA, CIMA and CIPFA merger was first raised, it was said there would be 120,000 members in the enlarged body. CIMA and ACCA would account for 110,000 of these accountants, leaving approximately 10,000 CIPFA qualified members. Is the spokeswoman’s quote an attempt at ‘creative accounting’, or a strategic dream for the NHS?

Philip E Dunn, Doncaster, South Yorkshire

Nothing like a comedy name I nearly split my sides to find out that the KPMG Management Consulting guru in charge of euro consulting services – as reported in Taking Stock (7 January) – was none other than a Mr Malcolm Stirling. Whatever next – perhaps there is an accountant out there somewhere called Mr Cash?

Andrew Fisher, Butterworth Jones & Co, Bridgwater

Saga between the sheets Can I use your letter page to draw attention to a problem with dates in spreadsheets which your readers may not have not noticed but which could cause havoc? It concerns daterithmetic. If you enter the date ‘99,12,26’ for 26 December 1999, and add 10, most spreadsheets will give the appropriate answer as 5/1/00 for the year 2000.

But, in reverse, entering date ‘00,1,5’ minus 10 either gives ‘invalid date’ for programmes which do not recognise dates before 1900 or on Quattro Pro you get the answer ’26/12/1899′.

This also means that, where the programme is doing subtractions for two-digit dates picked up elsewhere in the programme (for example, calculating interest or rent periods), once the date has gone over to 2000, any sums like date ‘00,1,5’ date ‘26,1,99’ will give large negative figures because the 00 is taken as 1900.

I have been in touch with Microsoft and Corel over this but they do not seem to have recognised the problem and I even wonder whether they have understood it. I am told it affects Excel as well. I have been sent patches which are meant to cure it, but they do not.

Clearly, there is a problem because ’00’ by itself could be ambiguous but, as it is more likely to be 2000 than 1900, perhaps the authors of these programs could give us some help. It can usually be solved by entering a four-figure year but this may mean carefully reviewing old spreadsheets where a two-figure year is picked up from other workings.

Does anyone out there have a solution?

Robert Walters,

Syllabus humbug In his column (View from the House, 10 December) Jim Cousins asserts that ‘little attention is given to the global economy or emerging problems’ in favour of ‘training greyhounds in techniques and ignoramuses in any social analysis’ with specific reference to professional bodies’ syllabuses and the preparation of future accounting practitioners.

Insofar as emerging professional syllabuses are concerned, it is difficult to reconcile the view of Mr Cousins with, for example, the proposed English ICA syllabuses which ‘aim to build up a proper understanding of the context in which business problems arise’ (Creating the Added-Value Business Advisor: The Detailed Proposals, page 5).

Moreover, within certain degree programmes, there is ample evidence that the curriculum deals with the very problems that Mr Cousins claims are overlooked.

If, as he suggests, the best way forward is to take the education role away from ‘the accountancy trade associations’ altogether, where would responsibility for this role lie?

Among the major established professions in the UK, accounting is the odd one out in that most professionally qualified practitioners do not have a relevant degree (i.e. in accounting & finance) and the links between the academic and practising branches are not as strong as one might wish.

It is unlikely, therefore, that the educational role could be wholly undertaken by academic institutions (even if this was considered desirable).

One could take the view that it is understandable if professional bodies failed to include aspects of the social, economic and political environment within their syllabuses, if legislation relating to reporting requirements remains unchanged. If the government showed some concern about providing more environmentally and socially useful information, then its first move should be to amend reporting requirements. Changes in the syllabuses of the professional bodies would rapidly follow.

Professor Richard MS Wilson, Loughborough University, Leicestershire

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