Ethics, Sir Bradley Wiggins and the accountancy profession
It was very sad to get confirmation of what had long seemed inevitable, the news that Team Sky and its knights, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Sir Dave Brailsford have been wearing rather tarnished armour.
While the story of drug-enhanced performance had been waiting to break for some time, using parliamentary privilege, a select committee from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has pointed a very direct collective finger accusing the team of outright cheating, albeit within some rather unsophisticated regulations.
Lord Coe and Sir Mo Farah are also in the frame for taking liberties with the truth and sailing closer to various winds than the committee deemed appropriate.
The media and the country built up these heroes to almost god-like status as gold medals funded by the public purse have flooded in, cheering as our boys and girls vanquished Johnny Foreigner again and again.
Discovering that they only managed to do this by bending or breaking the rules is depressing and one can only imagine that there will be an outcry if Great Britain is banned from the next (summer) Olympic Games in the same way that Russia was from the recently concluded winter equivalent.
A personal view from this commentator is that the efforts of our sportsmen and the administrators behind the scenes, who seem willing to do almost anything to facilitate the winning of gold medals thereby gaining additional funding for their own sports and businesses merely reflects current attitudes across society.
The winner takes all, get-rich-quick culture that can be seen in everything from the National Lottery to bonuses for city bigwigs and competition in every facet of British life today is inevitably going to tempt people to maximise their opportunities. Indeed, the importance of success is reflected by the fact that all four of the individuals named by the committee (and referred to above) are Knights of the Realm recognised by the government and the Queen with ennobling prefixes.
Looking at our own industry, similar attitudes are becoming increasingly prevalent with competition leading to behaviour that may be within the law but is still regarded by the man in the street (and at number 11 Downing Street) as abusive and unethical.
Is there anything wrong in signing off a set of accounts for a company like Carillion without managing to spot that it was about to go out of business having ramped up debts that could never be repaid?
Looking a little closer to home for many of us, is it acceptable to help clients to save taxes? The answer is an irrefutable “yes”, provided that the methods that we use are within the law. The problem, in this case, is that the law is so badly and confusingly drafted that frequently experts cannot be certain as to what is and is not permissible. Then our political leaders step in to criticise behaviour that Sir Bradley Wiggins would certainly regard as valid but then he believes that taking asthma tablets when you don’t have asthma is fair game.
Going one step further, and really getting to the crux of the matter, frequently advisers will recommend steps that are clearly against the spirit of the law, arguably abusive and unethical, but just about within the letter of that law. If accountants and tax advisers continue to use methods that follow these principles, could we one day end up knighted, probably not; could we end up reviled by Parliamentary committees and the general public, far more likely.