The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants have called off plans to merge due to "inadequate support among their members".
The decision to abandon the proposals after a year of talks is not just a blow to the leaderships of the two organisations, which have strongly backed the link-up. It will also disappoint the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, who recently repeated his calls for consolidation within the accountancy profession, which currently boasts six chartered bodies.
Management accountants questioned by the two bodies remain strongly in favour of the proposals, which would have involved the 150,000 members of both institutes being integrated into one organisation combining separate strands for those working in business and those in practice. But support among chartered accountants collapsed from about two-thirds at the time the principles for a link-up were published last spring to just over a third.
Younger accountants, who make up a large proportion of the English institute's membership following its rapid expansion in the 1980s, confirmed suspicions that they would be most opposed to the move by voting heavily against it. Only a fifth of them were in favour, largely, it is thought, because they were reluctant to share their qualification.
Keith Woodley, president of the English institute, and Allan McNab, his opposite number at Cima, said they were surprised and disappointed by the findings of a survey conducted in December. But they claimed that by carrying out a consultation exercise they had avoided the embarrassment of going all the way to a vote by the memberships, due to have taken place in June. "The whole purpose of the consultation exercise was to ascertain the members' views and they clearly think differently. Council must respect the members' views," Mr Woodley said.
Both men, who have devoted most of their presidential terms to the plan, are confident that their organisations can build on the foundations laid down in the past months to establish areas of co-operation. "Even if merger is off the agenda for the foreseeable future, the underlying commonality of interest between the two bodies remains and we must capitalise on that for the sake of our members as part of the wider profession," Mr McNab said.
The merger process - which has cost about pounds 450,000, mostly in mailings - began after the Bishop proposals for consolidation of all six chartered bodies into one regionally based grouping collapsed in early 1995.
The English institute and the management accountants, which had previously tried to merge in 1970, immediately announced that they would attempt a step-by-step route to this objective. But many observers were convinced that loyalties were so hardened that it would never come off.