The Debate: The practice assurance scheme

We don’t need ‘quality control’

By Peter Mitchell

Siege mentality is pervading small ICAEW practitioners facing the prospect of compulsory and regulated ‘quality control’, whose designers claim, besides improving work standards, will deliver heightened public awareness of our qualification.

This autumn the Small Practitioners Association will report on a survey of 12,500 smaller ICAEW practitioners where 83% of the 1,000 responses will argue that the above objectives would not be attained.

Our clients come principally through personal recommendations, are supported by our indemnity insurance and can complain to our institute if dissatisfied. We don’t claim to be perfect but we do claim to be responsible and accountable; invariably we don’t handle client money nor deal with large business, thus any damage occasionally caused is generally minor, contained and rapidly resolved.

Consider the present environment where our clients are under attack from unregulated accountants. The DTI has given no support for our plight, nor protection for the general public who cannot differentiate between qualified and unqualified practitioners. Our professional image remains under the shadow of highly publicised failures of international practices. While our institutes have not come out with positive initiatives to correct or strengthen flawed audit or accounting processes. Why then a further unwarranted compulsory regulatory scheme for us?

Yes, we would welcome a quality assurance kitemark if this comes as part of a voluntary members’ service funded from existing subscriptions. But the prospect of further annual fees for ineffective regulation has no appeal and is likely to cause huge numbers of practitioners, like our clients, to vote with their feet.

The SPA is thus taking up cudgels with the ICAEW on its apparent plans to impose a preconceived and highly spun scheme at considerable cost to unwilling members. What is on offer we neither need nor deserve.

  • Peter Mitchell is chairman of the Small Practitioners Association

Benefits will outweigh the costsBy Maurice Ede

In December 2001 the ICAEW council approved a proposal to introduce a practice review scheme known as practice assurance. The announcement came at a time when the work of chartered accountants across the world was being put under the microscope; a time when it is crucial to promote the CA brand and to inspire confidence in members’ work.

Let me stress that practice assurance is not a ‘done deal’, nor is it compulsory at this stage. All members will be eligible to vote at a special meeting in June 2003. The scheme will not be designed to catch firms out. On the contrary, the emphasis will be on providing constructive advice and feedback with a view to raising standards.

The institute is determined that the benefits of practice assurance should outweigh the costs. The scheme will aim to demonstrate our members are serious about maintaining and enhancing standards. It will help to promote the CA brand to compete more strongly with unregulated and unqualified accountants.

Practice assurance will identify areas for improvement, address and remedy weaknesses, whilst at the same time providing an opportunity to gain an outside perspective and to share feedback. It will lead to the formulation of ‘best practice’ procedures which will further improve efficiency.

The introduction of any new initiative brings with it anxieties and fears. This is why we are urging members to take part in the consultation process .This process began with a series of briefing sessions in local district societies to discuss how the scheme might develop and to hear members’ views. The scheme will be further developed through a series of five web-enabled questionnaires.

Member volunteer working groups will consider the areas of non-regulated work to be covered by the scheme and the standards which should apply.

Other events planned include roadshows in local district societies, the general practitioner panel conference and the sole practitioners’ day.

The scheme will be promoted with a view to achieving these aims. It will be an essential plank in our strategy to raise standards and to recruit new entrants of the highest calibre.

  • Maurice Ede is the chairman of the ICAEW’s professional standards directorate

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