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Boris Johnson’s lessons for accountants (or what BJ could learn from us)

Ultimately, whether in the profession or running government, we all get big decisions wrong from time to time.

5th Nov 2020
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Boris Johnson
WIKICommons_Jon Curnow_aweb

While none of us can be happy about the mess that our country is in and the prospect of being locked away for another month, at the very least, this accountant always tries to find positives in any situation.

Over the last few weeks, his close study of the antics of the Prime Minister and his cohort has presented a series of reminders of techniques used by those running accountancy practices in past years.

Therefore, it seemed a worthwhile exercise to focus in on a few of our esteemed leader’s recent decisions and find ways in which these might help practitioners to run their businesses more effectively. Sadly, in every case what Mr Johnson has to offer is something that should be regarded as an object lesson in how not to operate, so he might even learn a few things by studying the profession.

  1. Closing large parts of a country in order to counter a pandemic

    The closest comparison might be a situation where the head of your most lucrative but disruptive team announces that they wish to join another firm unless you give them preferential treatment. The key here is to consult colleagues then be decisive and, having made the choice, don't look back. The worst thing for you and your business is to agonise and prevaricate.

  1. Declaring categorically that you will never countenance a second lockdown

Not so long ago, this accountant worked for a respectable firm that found itself the centre of press interest, implying that it would soon be taken over by a rival.

The managing partner sent out an all-points bulletin stating that no such move is contemplated, nor would any such merger ever happen. Okay, it took more than two weeks for the rumoured takeover to happen but it did.

  1. Withdrawing free meals from starving children

Accountants always looking for opportunities to cut costs and eliminating staff canteens has been one of the clever wheezes tried over the years. While heretofore this has never excited the enthusiasm of any England footballer, it certainly doesn’t go down well with those who lose the privilege.

  1. Refusing to agree a negotiated settlement with Manchester’s mayor, then giving its citizens more than the requested amount

This recalls one of the columnist’s finest moments. Having had one of the best years of his career, he was stunned to receive a salary review that was insulting. Plucking up courage, he demanded a meeting with the managing partner of the practice, determined to request a ludicrously large pay rise and negotiate down to a reasonable one. However, the wind was taken out of his sails when the initial offer from the firm was considerably in excess of his wildest ambition.

  1. Implementing Eat out to Spread Coronavirus and finding the budget blown

It’s quite difficult to decide which accounting blunder can best be used to represent this project. In most practices, the closest example would be an IT project that not only cost the accounting equivalent to HS2 but didn’t actually work. Mind you, HMRC has a long record of similar failures.

  1. Offering big loans to conmen, who took the money and ran

This one reminded the columnist with the elephantine memory of various senior recruits who could talk their way into senior roles, had the knack of staying there for a ludicrous amount of time, but failed to deliver on any of their promises about fee generation and eventually left with a handsome golden handshake.

  1. Spending £12bnon a Track and Trace operation that was effectively non-existent

Back in the good old days, someone decided that accountants were bad at generating new work. Instead, it made sense to employ cold callers with no understanding of the industry. Against all the odds, they failed to generate any new business but at least the project didn’t cost £12bn.

  1. There is no money to feed starving children, but we can pay consultants (primarily accountants - yippee) huge fees

Many readers of this column will have worked in firms that have implemented pay freezes “because times are hard” then announced record profit shares for partners.

  1. Let’s “allegedly” give jobs, treats and inflated pay to our lovers and family at public expense, even if they haven’t the necessary skills

Why do so many partners’ and/or clients’ kids always seem to be educationally subnormal or lazy? OK, that is a little unfair but only a little. If you prefer, we could talk about the partners’ spouses who never visit the office get a hefty secretarial salary for attendance duties that start and end with at the Xmas party.

The sad thing about this article is that it would be quite easy to double its length, without running out of bad political moves that mirror bad business ideas. Going a step further, you have to wonder whether Mr Johnson will ever get anything right on the coronavirus front. Judging by his record to date, the law of averages suggests that an inspired moment can’t be too far away. Then again…

Replies (7)

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By Paul Crowley
06th Nov 2020 08:41

A lot of fun

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By [email protected]
06th Nov 2020 11:12

Not a lot fun for the 60,000 who have died.

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By Rudolph Reindeer
06th Nov 2020 15:07

Are you Keir Starmer? So easy to criticize when you will never have to make decisions that effect a nation.

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Replying to Rudolph Reindeer:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
07th Nov 2020 08:38

I think you'll find it's actually easy to criticise when the government has actually been incompetent.

Well done on registering solely to make a not remotely clever political point though.

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Replying to stepurhan:
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By Rudolph Reindeer
07th Nov 2020 15:49

The government has been incompetent? So exactly what would Labour have done differently as they have never actually said? I don't recall Labour suggesting a furlough, or how it could be paid for. I have lived under several Labour governments and they all had one thing in common, incompetence, stupidity, and leaving the nation bankrupt.

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Replying to Rudolph Reindeer:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
08th Nov 2020 12:51

So, instead of offering evidence that this government has been competent, you have fallen back on the old "what would the party not in power have done".

I can't know that and neither can you, because they are not in power. What I do know is that the Track and Trace system (still labelled as "NHS" though run privately) is a farce. I do know that the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme (which managed to be both a scammer's charter whilst also being way too restricted to help legitimate businesses. An admirable feat ) caused spikes in infections. I do know that the government decided to announce on a Saturday night (several hours later than originally planned) the second national lockdown on the day an entirely new job support scheme was supposed to start. Plus we are now rushing towards a Brexit with no deal in place, which is going to make the economic turmoil even worse.

So I think it perfectly reasonable to call the party actually in power incompetent. Do you actually have any arguments other than an unproven "Labour would have been worse"?

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By AndyC555
09th Nov 2020 14:12

"Withdrawing free meals from starving children"

Don't suppose you actually have any evidence to back up the claim that (i) free meals have been withdrawn and (ii) there are starving children in the UK (I thought childhood obesity was the problem) where this is the fault of the government.

OK, you clearly hate the Tories but surely there's enough that they have actually done so you don't have to make things up.

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