From the chief executive
European Federation established to represent bookkeepers across the EU
Following a series of meetings in the EU parliament, I am delighted to report that the ICB, in conjunction with a number of bookkeeping organisations from across Europe, has established the European Federation of Bookkeepers (EFoB). EFoB will be admit into membership the leading bookkeeping organisations from each state within the EU. In addition to ICB from the UK, organisations from Brussels, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Switzerland are already signed up. ICB Ireland will represent Southern Ireland in the new body. Over the coming months we shall meet to discuss the setting up of a common level of qualifications and properly define the job role of a bookkeeper in each country. This will ultimately protect and strengthen the role of the bookkeeper and ensure that across Europe the importance of what we do is recognised and appreciated. The ultimate goal is to achieve cross border recognition.
I recently hosted a parliamentary business breakfast at the House of Commons, at which one of the speakers was Howard Rosen CBE, chairman of COBCOE (Council of Chambers of Commerce of Europe). COBCOE represents all the Chambers of Commerce across Europe, many of which are very active and to which, in some countries, it is almost obligatory to be a member if a company wants to export. Afterwards Howard and I discussed the need for bookkeepers across Europe and the need for cooperation between our respective organisations. As part of these on-going discussions, COBCOE has added ICB to the distribution list of its quarterly e-magazine, Links. This can now be viewed by ICB members from the following link: www.cobcoe.eu/files/cobcoe-links-magazine-spring-2012-eDtM3s.pdf
It is a very interesting read and on page 32 of the current magazine you will see a photograph of participants in the visit to Denmark of ICB Royal Patron, His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent. ICB EU Policy Advisor, Dr David Doyle, is pictured second from right. His Royal Highness and the small group of businessmen met with Danish businesses to discuss trade and cooperation between Denmark and the UK. The visit was organised by the Genesis Initiative, of which I am chairman of the Policy Senate. The Senate monitors and debates government policy that affects small businesses and lobbies MPs and others to achieve a more favourable trading environment. Genesis is comprised of more than one-hundred-and-fifty small business organisations, which between them represent in excess of one million UK small businesses - from engineers to master saddlers and from exhibition designers to bookkeepers. I am pleased that many of you have taken on clients that have come to the ICB as a direct result of our links with the Genesis member organisations. But I think more can be done to increase this number and the discussions with COBCOE are part of this.
Ich bin ein Buchhalter
In April I attended the annual conference and dinner of the German Bookkeepers, or Buchhalters, in the beautiful Bavarian town of Wurzburg, Germany. This was a reciprocal visit following their attendance at the ICB Bookkeepers Summit in London last year.
More than three hundred bookkeepers met to discuss the German bookkeeping profession and the many challenges that it faces. Following the conference delegates attended the annual dinner, which was held in the underground vault of a winery. Surrounded by huge casks, we were entertained by a German woman in full Bavarian costume, to what I understand was a tirade against men, and women, drinking too much. Apparently women drinking during the day was once quite a problem. Nowadays I am assured that they drink far more discretely.
It was a very enjoyable weekend and further cemented relationships between UK and German bookkeepers.
Currying favour with the Lord Mayor
On 26 April the good and the great from the City of London, and I, attended the Lord Mayor's annual charity lunch at the Guildhall. This year we were treated to a very nice curry lunch, cooked and served by soldiers, as this year the recipient charity of the admission fees and proceeds of the various raffles and auctions was ABF the Soldiers' Charity. Each attendee was given either an orange, yellow or red badge, which we soon discovered referred to at which of the three sittings we were eating. And woe betides anyone who arrived late. This is the first time I have attended this particular function. It wasn't quite handled with military precision but it was a very enjoyable lunchtime distraction.
Meeting the troops
Early in May I was very pleased to welcome ICB member Malcolm Harrison to the ICB offices. Malcolm runs an extremely successful practice in Plymouth and was in the area so asked if he could drop in to say hello and meet the ICB team. Malcolm set up a very successful ICB practice working with Chartered Accountants but then decided he wanted to concentrate on bookkeeping so has left the accountants to get on with it and has now set up another practice, MH Associates, and already has more than three-hundred clients.
Now that the offices are in London, we do get more visitors. We are always happy to meet members who are perhaps unable to get to conference or area meetings but it is wise to tell us you are coming as security around the examinations is pretty high here and we don't want you getting frogmarched off the premises before we get chance to welcome you.
Our man in Helsinki
Earlier this month I made a flying visit to Helsinki to talk to entrepreneurs who are interested in selling to, or buying from, the UK and who wanted to hear how ICB members could assist them in navigating the UK VAT and Tax systems when they have established subsidiaries in the UK.
This was part of the Finnish Entrepreneurs Day and I was there at the invitation of the British and Commonwealth Chamber of Commerce. I sat on a panel of so-called experts and took questions from an audience of Finns and ex-pat British businessmen and later took part in a short seminar about trading with the UK. I held discussions with the Finnish Bookkeepers Association, with which we have agreed to work on joint initiatives in our respective countries.
Memories of a barmaid
I was speaking recently at the Annual Crime Symposium of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). This very important organisation is colloquially known as 'fat F', which always reminds me of a rather large barmaid that I once encountered in my early forays into drinking, at the Golden Cross in Shrewsbury.
I digress. FATF is the global organisation responsible for creating the money laundering regulations and then monitoring how countries use and abuse them. The Symposium was held at the Law Society in London and drew together experts from the Legal, Banking and Accounting professions.
The title of my session was: 'Is the risk-based approach sufficiently tailored for small to medium sized professional services firms?' Alongside me on the panel was Felicity Banks, head of legal affairs at ICAEW and Amy Bell from leading London legal firm Pannone LLP. Attendees were from a wide range of professional bodies and legal firms, including Clifford Chance; Ashton KCJ; Birketts LLP; Ogier; Freeth Cartwright LLP; John McCarthy Consulting Limited; Stephenson Harwood; Appleby (Bermuda) Limited; Utrecht University; FSA; Pillsbury Wintrhop Shaw Pittman LLP. AAT was represented by Tania Hayes and ICAEW by Paul Simpkins.
The session provided me with a wonderful opportunity to explain to delegates what pivotal role bookkeepers have to play in the UK Anti Money Laundering campaign.
It was decided that the risk based approach was certainly both appropriate and commensurate with the possibilities of money laundering in the professions. More importantly for the ICB, however, was that during the coffee break afterwards, several delegates came up to me to say that they had not previously appreciated that bookkeepers were playing such an important part in reducing the ability of businesses to launder money. Many had thought of this as just a big business phenomenon and hadn't realised how much fraudulent activity could take place in micro and small businesses.
Above all, they all agreed that bookkeepers are in a unique position to stem money laundering in the very early stages.
Training providers express doubts about Ofqual
At the latest regular meeting of ICB Accredited Training Providers (ATPs), concerns were raised about the ICB decision to apply for accreditation with Ofqual. Most providers felt that they would not want to be part of the Ofqual system but would prefer to maintain accreditation under the existing, non-Ofqual syllabuses, which they felt are more job-related and more pertinent to the market. Some providers, which offer other qualifications that are Ofqual, said that these were less popular because, they thought, of the breaking down of the qualification into small credit units instead of the end of study examination.
It was also felt that students want ICB membership, which is why so few chose other syllabuses.
The meeting, which was chaired by ICB Head of Qualifications, Allison Bryant, was held last week at the ICB offices and included wide ranging discussions across a broad agenda. Topics included the new criteria for accreditation and the recently completed ICB Distance-Learning Quality Standards.
During the meeting, the ICB team made its customary withdrawal from the meeting to allow the ATPs to hold a discussion amongst themselves. This session was chaired by ATP chairman Al Vanden Akker from Ideal Schools. Afterwards points raised during their discussion were put to ICB
If it ain't broke, break it
Allison Bryant and I yesterday attended the latest meeting of the Federation of Awarding bodies (FAB) of which ICB is an Associate Member. We were there to discuss government's latest mad idea - the formation of a 'brand' for the UK's vocational qualifications so that UK qualifications can be promoted abroad.
The fact that some of the country's leading international qualifications boards, such as City and Guilds, Edexcel, Pearson and indeed the ICB, were sitting at the table, was not lost on FAB, who seem to have been banging their heads against yet another brick wall at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS). The impetus behind this latest crackpot idea seems to come from the Association of Colleges and supported by BIS. A 'consultant' has already been paid tens of thousands of pounds to come up with the supporting data for this but idea there is believed to be a fund of around £500,000 to fund the organisation that will eventually be set up to run it - no doubt comprised of yet another self-important bunch of people who have probably never run anything in their lives more important than a bath. No doubt this will organise 'fact-finding missions' to China and Brazil that are packed with college principals eager to spread their local college into countries new and distant. I did dare to mention during the meeting that perhaps the whole reason why government funding was being sought was because colleges were involved and that they were not used to doing anything without a leg-up from a government fund of one shape or another. One or two around the table, self-confessed 'former college employees', took offence at my remarks but they were in the minority.
All of he awarding organisations at the meeting said that they were all already marketing UK plc abroad and were quite content to continue so to do. They couldn't see the need for another layer of hierarchy but felt that the reports from FAB on meetings they had attended led firmly to the belief that the decision has probably already been taken.
I shall keep you informed.
The Tax man cometh
On Thursday representatives from HMRC are coming to the ICB offices to discuss the new Tax Agent regime and how ICB members can fit into their plans. This leads on from the consultation ICB contributed to a while back and is potentially a very exciting move for ICB. I shall update you in next month's issue of InVoice.