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FINANCE SUPPLEMENT - CIPFA MERGER OPINION

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CIPFA chief executive Steve Freer is bullish about uniting with ICAEW. Kerry Lorimer finds out why...
CIPFA chief executive Steve Freer is bullish about uniting with ICAEW. Kerry Lorimer finds out why

Members have vetoed integration in the past - so why should they embrace it now?

According to Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy chief executive Steve Freer, the growing internationalism of the profession over the past 15 years is a major driver for consolidation. 'Enron has had a big impact. The profession is becoming more regulated, and a lot of it is at a European or global level.'

CIPFA has also become, he believes, a more attractive partner. 'We have grown significantly in the intervening period. We are a more influential body,' he says.

On a practical level, he says the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales is selling the merger proposals much more enthusiastically to its members than it did at the time of the last vote in 1990.

So what does he think of ICAEW as an institute?

'ICAEW is a very impressive organisation,' says Mr Freer. 'There is no doubt that, in the unofficial pecking order of the UK profession, it is the most admired body.'

However, it has huge untapped potential - potential that will be unlocked by the planned merger, he says. The two organisations together are a 'positive and potent mixture with the potential to be a great UK and international body', says Mr Freer.

One of the areas of potential is student membership. 'They have not been attracting as many students in the recent past as they should attract, with all their strengths,' he says. He believes the new combined body would be significantly more attractive to students as well as to employers.

His fear is that, unless CIPFA takes the initiative with industry-wide consolidation, other bodies will, which might not necessarily be to CIPFA's advantage.

'It's much more sensible for us [to do it] than to let others dictate the future,' says Mr Freer.

He was 'not surprised' that the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants decided to step back from the negotiations to make sure the terms were right. 'History tells us that what we're doing is difficult,' he says. 'It would be better if we could do it as one step in a 'dream ticket' way, but we're operating in the real world.'

He predicts CIMA's decision will make it easier for CIPFA members to vote in favour of the merger. 'They are not being asked to make the big decision,' he says. 'It's a smaller decision on the way to bringing the three organisations together, but they can see the final destination in the background.'

Mr Freer is keen to reassure CIPFA members who fear their qualification would be undermined in the new structure. 'The qualification won't be taken away - it may change over time, but that would happen whether we merged or not,' he says.

He adds that there is an 'absolute commitment' to continue a specialist public finance route to qualification. The new institute would establish a public services faculty to provide an effective governance framework and a focus for members.

So have CIPFA and ICAEW made a sufficiently strong case? The members will be the judges when they vote in the autumn.

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