Comment – ICA fails to listen to grass roots

Congratulations to John Cook on his success against electives at the recent English ICA agm. This was the second time he has proved that the institute cannot choose to ignore the wishes of the voting majority.

There is no doubt that the English ICA council believes that options are the way forward. It was so sure of success that it thought it unnecessary to convince the voting members. The discussion on electives was largely between interested parties such as the large training firms and the large trainers.

The Ginger Group remains unconvinced by the arguments put forward and openly supported Mr Cook. What particularly riled the group was the way the Big Five thought that they could railroad the proposals through, by threatening to pull their students out of English ICA training.

It will be interesting to see whether Oxbridge high-fliers will join the Big Five if there is no clear path to becoming chartered accountants. Our guess is that they will be more likely to join a firm that does offer such a path. There are possibilities here for medium-sized firms to benefit at the expense of the Big Five.

If PwC and others pull out of training there might be a considerable drop in income for the institute. This problem is hardly insurmountable, as the Association of Corporate Treasurers and the Institute of Taxation both run high-quality courses with far fewer numbers than the English ICA.

The mistake the council made was in listening to the Big Five rather than to its grass roots members. Twenty years ago, the council would have got its own way. Since then members have chosen to vote against inflation accounting, against mergers and against increasing the size of the council.

There has been some criticism that only a small number of members voted.

This may be due to the lack of discussion that preceded the agm. Many questions remain unanswered on electives.

For instance, a strength of the institute has been that so many top finance directors are chartered accountants. If the Big Five are no longer prepared to train those intending to go into industry and commerce, who will train them?

Perhaps, industry should train its own chartered accountants. But where was the discussion on this crucial topic?

One feature of this whole sorry episode is the part played by the Big Five firms. If they cannot continue to manipulate the gravy train, they will be quite happy to withdraw from the English ICA.

There are many ordinary members out there who would be happy to see them go.

– Jeff Wooller FCA is founder of the Ginger Group, a body which campaigns for greater democracy at the English ICA.

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