New accountants' watchdog proposed

ROGER TRAPP

A Public Oversight Body composed of eminent figures from the City and commerce should be set up as a permanent watchdog for the regulatory activities of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, according to a report published yesterday.

The report, by an institute working party headed by Chris Swinson, also recommends that all the organisation's disciplinary and monitoring activities be grouped together under a single body to be known as the Office for Professional Standards.

The proposals, which will be subject to public consultation until October, add to the growing debate over self-regulation in the City and the professions. They come a day after the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland issued a paper calling for the formation of a new independent organisation to take on the conduct or supervision of monitoring and discipline and the oversight of registration of auditors.

Earlier this week, the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants announced its intention to leave the Joint Disciplinary Scheme, the body that investigates the most serious allegations of misconduct by members of it and the English and Scottish institutes.

Acca has already proposed the establishment of a General Accounting Council to scrutinise regulation in all the accountancy bodies. But the English institute's proposals deliberately avoid this approach on the grounds that it would still combine regulatory and representative functions and so not deal with the central issue of public concern.

The English institute sees the POB plan as a significant departure from previous attempts to reform regulation because it gives oversight to an external group. Although it would be "off to one side" rather than over- arching, such as the body suggested by Acca, it would be effective because the calibre of its membership would win public respect and it would goad the institute and its members into performing better, Mr Swinson said. He is a partner at the accountants BDO Stoy Hayward.

Since its members would appoint their successors, it could set its own work programme and be able to report in public when it wished, and therefore be seen as completely independent.

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