Filling the vacuum – opportunities in an uncertain ‘Big Society’

ACCOUNTANTS, lawyers and consultancies have long attempted to project themselves as more than their core profession, adding values by being ‘business advisers’. For many accountancy practices there is some substance to this with services provided ranging from strategic planning advice through to genuine additional services such as IT support.

Some of the larger practices have worked in partnership with other professionals, banks and to a limited extent government sponsored bodies, to promote best practice and in so doing position themselves as a credible and capable source of professional advice.

This all makes for good awareness building, cross referral of contacts and to a certain extent client care. Whether these initiatives fulfil a genuine business community need, or fulfil the marketing objectives of a firm keen to acquire new clients, is a moot point. As a rule one suspects the emphasis is more on the client acquisition than social responsibility angle. However, things may be changing.

The cost cutting being undertaken by the coalition government and the peeling away of some local and regional business support structures and the arrival of ‘Local Enterprise Partnerships’ could create something of a business support vacuum.

Strategically this is something that may represent an opportunity for professional advisers and in particular accountants. This could be something that will require a sense of partnership.

In Hertfordshire my firm has teamed up with Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce to survey the current opinions of local business in relation to the wider national economy, local factors and their own business position. The timing appears to be right for this type of initiative with Hertfordshire designated for its own Local Enterprise Partnership and a possible change in perspective with Hertfordshire being seen as commercial ‘region’ in its own right, as opposed to a county within the Eastern Region.

Without commenting on the political strengths or weaknesses of the ‘Big Society’ concept in a business sense the combination of cost saving, a greater emphasis on localism and an attempt to foster wider community involvement could offer opportunities for accountancy practices to play a revised role.

This could be beneficial for the local business community and help build awareness in a firm and ascribe positive attributes to the brand?

Antony Federer is a partner at Rayner Essex

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