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'Bias' sparks row in accountancy

An organisation set up to oversee training in the accountancy sector has been accused of allowing an awarding body to monopolise the qualifications market.

The Accountancy Occupational Standards Group (AOSG) was set up two years ago to replace the National Training Organisation for Accounting as an interim measure until a sector skills council is appointed.

But the International Association of Bookkeepers (IAB) complains that it is being frozen out of the sector by the influence of another awarding body, the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT).

The IAB has written to Ivan Lewis, minister for skills and vocational education, protesting that the AAT is allowed to sponsor the new sector organisation and house the organisation's secretariat at its offices. It claims that the AOSG has placed artificial barriers in the way of IAB qualifications being added to Modern Apprenticeship frameworks. It also alleges that a confidential e-mail between the IAB and the AOSG was copied to a senior member of staff of rival awarding body the AAT. The IAB says it has received little communication from the new sector body, and has not been invited to contribute to any projects or attend meetings.

Further, the association claims the AOSG has strengthened the market position of the AAT, and accuses the sector body of undermining the quality of Modern Apprenticeships in the accountancy sector.

"I understand that the accounting sector is not unique in having a situation where the sponsors of the sector body have a material interest in its decisions," said IAB spokesman Malcolm Trotter.

"Despite this having been brought to the attention of both the Sector Skills Development Agency and Ivan Lewis, they seem ambivalent and have failed to address this inherent structural fault."

But Robert Jelly, spokesman for the AOSG, said the body was formed when no other party expressed an interest in undertaking the essential work of a sector body for accountancy.

"The AOSG has not received a complaint from the IAB, which should be the first step to resolve this situation," he said. "The AOSG board is confident that although the potential for a conflict of interest exists, this is mitigated by the AOSG's transparent procedures and the professionalism and integrity of the AAT staff. The suggestion that AOSG favours one awarding body over another is an insult to our professional integrity."

Jane Scott Paul, chief executive of the AAT, denied that it had undue influence on the sector body. "The AAT does award the vast majority of NVQs in accounting, but this is the result of market preference and not through AAT influence on AOSG.

A spokeswoman for the Sector Skills Development Agency said: "We are aware of the concerns raised by the IAB, and are working with them and other stakeholders to help improve communications and enable all partners to play a full role in their sectoral body. To this end, we are working with the newly-formed Financial Services Skills Council to consider whether it can include the accountancy sector as part of its remit. We hope that new arrangements through the FSSC will resolve the issues raised by the IAB."

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