Accountancy & Management: The public's champion: The new president of Acca is all in favour of co-operation and closer links with Continental Europe, says Roger Trapp

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The Independent Online
NOBODY could accuse Kenneth Duncan of having a narrow focus. The new president of the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants (Acca) is - in addition to being an accountant - a barrister and fellow of the Institute of Taxation. He has also worked for the Inland Revenue and in commerce, at home and abroad.

Now director of taxation with Duracell Europe, Aberdeen-raised Mr Duncan read law at university and became a member of Gray's Inn before joining the Revenue, because he felt a combination of the accountant's numeracy and the lawyer's familiarity with case law is essential for an understanding of the increasingly complex tax field. Although his territory at Duracell runs from Sweden and Finland in the north to Spain and Portugal in the south, he does not claim to be a European tax encyclopaedia. 'I defy anybody to be that - even to be a UK one.'

His time with the Revenue was followed by a spell in the oil industry - first with Texaco, which sent him to the Caribbean for five years, then with Esso - before he moved to Duracell. The association has long been proud of its strength in industry, but Mr Duncan's career has inevitably given him a different perspective from his predecessor, the KPMG Peat Marwick partner David Bishop.

Since he has spent a lot of time working with international companies it is hardly surprising that he sees developing links beyond the UK's boundaries as one of the key themes of his year in office. Indeed, since joining Acca's council in 1980, he has drawn on this wide-ranging experience to spend a lot of time dealing with international affairs, both within the organisation and as the UK accountancy profession's representative on the International Federation of Accountants' ethics committee.

Acca has an office in Brussels, but Mr Duncan believes there is a lot more that can be done to foster relations with mainland Europe.

'One of the points of having a Brussels office is to influence draft directives rather than reacting to a paper when it is produced,' he said.

It is for this reason that he favours the tentative steps currently being made to draw the six different accountancy bodies closer together. Even if the survey of all the bodies' members that is due to be published soon does not come down in favour of moving towards merger, Mr Duncan feels there is much to be said - in dealings with the European Commission at least - for the various organisations to be able 'to talk with one voice'.

On the wider stage, he does not expect much progress in the short term. But there are areas that he sees as ripe for co-operation, such as technical research, ethics and discipline and international affairs. Moreover, the cost savings from merging the various bodies' secretariats have an obvious appeal. 'It's an evolution rather than a revolution,' he said.

Mr Duncan seems very much the pragmatist - despite his membership of the Institute of Taxation, he has no intention of becoming involved in the body's dispute with the Institute of Chartered Accountants over the latter's plan to run examinations in tax.

But it is a sign of the times that one of his pledges for his term concerns social involvement. By this time next year he intends to have in place a scheme that will enable Acca members who have lost their jobs to seek authorisation to carry out limited consultancy work in their specialist areas. He admits this is a way of controlling the proliferation of consultants, but he insists it is also positive action to get people with expertise back to work.

This concerned approach should not, however, delude any members into feeling that he will take a soft line on regulation. 'I want to see a better and more enhanced performance by the membership in terms of the protection of the public.'

Pointing out that the monitoring system introduced last year is bound to develop - and so improve standards - over the years, he nevertheless said: 'Paramount to all that we do is the protection of the public.'

(Photograph omitted)