View from the House - Austin Mitchell MP
(Accountancy Age, 10 June 1999)
The UK accountancy bodies have always behaved like trade associations,
not guardians of the public interest. They seek economic advantages for their
members. They lobby government departments to protect their interests.
They aim to shift the tax burdens from the rich to the poor.Yet their PR
still claims that accountancy is a profession - independent, respectable and
principled - and that accountants individually accept responsibility for their
judgements and that they themselves serve the public interest, accountability
and transparency. It's all a 19th century myth.
Personal responsibility is now increasingly replaced by incorporation
of firms. LLPs will, they hope, finalise this process. Rather than ethics,
social responsibility and professional
judgement, accountants shelter behind the latest accounting and auditing
standards and their self-protecting ingenuities.
The accountancy bodies claim to serve 'the public interest' but, when
I asked them how, none could indicate its meaning. Nor could they point
me to any part of their syllabuses
which encourages accountants to reflect on 'whose interest is the public
interest'. Accountancy firms rarely publish any meaningful information
about their own affairs but they want it from everyone else. The
accountancy bodies hide behind claims of ethics and transparency, but rarely
apply either to their own affairs. The English ICA 'open' council meetings are
a sham. ACCA and CIMA keep the public well away, and when I asked why
ACCA had mysteriously dumped an officer, I was told it was its own business
not mine. All companies publish details of the highest-paid executive's
salary. CIMA does not. ACCA officeholders take spouses and 'partners'
on worldwide travels at the members' expense, but the annual report fails to
disclose who paid for whom. Under pressure, ACCA's chief executive
has been obliged to give the figures to the Privy Council Office, but the annual
accounts remain silent. My enquiries get one-line replies inviting me to
rearrange two words to form a well-known English phrase or expression. So
much for the public interest.
Austin Mitchell is Labour MP for Great Grimsby.