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A very British victory

In one sense, the ICAEW has pulled off a remarkable achievement. The recent
vote on the proposal to merge with the public sector accountants, CIPFA, showed
a clear majority in favour of such a move. When the idea was first suggested
last year, it was soon evident that the FCAs would be the hardest lot to
convince of the merits of having a bigger, louder voice on the global
accountancy stage. Prejudices about hard-won qualifications and a large dose of
snobbery gave the ‘profession’ leadership a much tougher job to convince its
members than the ‘civil servants’ were ever going to have. Our own reader survey
in March made that much clear, too. At the time, the ICAEW FDs were, on balance,
sceptical of change; the CIPFA FDs were eager to embrace it.

So for the ICAEW to get more than 65% of the voting members to support the
move was a victory of sorts. It was, of course, a very British victory because
the ICAEW needed 66.7% to effect the change. There were barely 500 votes in it,
in the end, which, out of a membership of more than 125,000, was pretty galling
for the Moorgate Place management. It was like being forced back from the peak
of Everest just yards from the top. The proposal to change the name of the
super-institute to one that conflicted with the Scottish accountants served only
to undermine the real debate about the ICAEW’s strategy, and was a distraction
that made the English institute look arrogant and over-confident.

The ICAEW was pleased with the “historic” size of the turnout. Around 56,000
institute members put their X somewhere on the ballot paper – though that means,
of course, that 70,000 didn’t vote at all. In fact, at barely 44%, the turnout
was about on a par with a British local authority election. (Our own humble
survey generated a credible 26% response rate among ICAEW members).

But the ICAEW leadership must be right to take the vote as a mandate for some
sort of change. Whatever the arguments about turnout or majorities or the ‘Don’t
cares’ taking first place, the huge shift in popular opinion on the merger
proposal is all to the good. The institute must capitalise on this momentum.

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