Readers might wonder what Prince Philip and maintaining a professional qualification have in common.
If the speculation by the Prince’s biographer Giles Brandreth is correct, His Royal Highness started driving over 80 years ago and has probably never passed the driving test.
This might have been of no consequence had an accident not occurred just outside the Sandringham Estate last week.
According to news reports, the 97-year-old Royal’s vehicle crashed into a car containing two women and a baby. He suffered no great injury but one of the women broke either an arm or wrist, which has been played down but was still very serious for the victim. Nobody has even tried to attribute blame, although from the comments of an eyewitness it might have been easy to do so.
What has any of this got to do with the world of accountancy? On the face of it, nothing at all. However, if one cares to dig beneath the surface, there are some interesting parallels.
Whether the Prince of Wales passed a driving test at around the start of World War II or didn’t, it seems unlikely that he has faced any kind of testing or training of his road skills since. At most, he might have been obliged to undergo an occasional eye test.
Far be it from me to make a disparaging statement but is it really safe for somebody not far short of their century to drive at all, particularly when nobody has checked out their mental or physical capabilities for doing so?
This is the link. Anyone qualified to work in the field of accountancy must, by definition, have passed some pretty stringent examinations at some point, although this could also be half a century or more in the past. They can still practice at 97 too.
However, they are required to comply with CPD requirements, obliging them to do some reading, attend training sessions or otherwise maintain a degree of knowledge of their areas of purported expertise.
Is this good enough? Having worked with large firms in a specialised tax field for the vast majority of his career, this writer was always able to tap into advice from experienced colleagues in areas in which he was no expert, receive top-level training on a regular basis and enjoy access to an incredible databank of research materials.
Even so, at best he was well qualified to advise in a very narrow space, competent to do so in a much wider field and indisputably dangerous for example if asked to give an opinion regarding inheritance tax or VAT, let alone accounting or auditing.
Those who work as general practitioners are expected to have deep knowledge of every aspect of an accountant’s trade and nowadays, this is nigh on impossible. To make matters worse, legislation and guidance change on a regular basis meaning that even if someone was on top of things in 2016, by now their knowledge could be fatally flawed.
As far as I can tell, this potential danger rarely causes disasters. However, just as I would advocate that Prince Philip should be obliged to sit a driving test before getting behind the wheel on a public road again, one might wonder whether accountants should periodically be asked to go through some kind of more rigorous training to ensure their competence or possibly even sit an exam every decade or two.
Having said that, as far as this columnist is aware, doctors, lawyers and other professionals who must have exactly the same issues are also able to practice unfettered and untested for decades after what some might regard as their sell-by dates.
My guess is that almost everybody reading this column was delighted when they sat their final professional exam and would never wish to do so again. However, if the profession wishes to maintain its reputation and standards at a time when scandals like Patisserie Valerie are raising embarrassing questions, this could become standard practice at some point in the future.