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Accounting at the sharp end: A report from the Community Accountancy Conference 2014

I’ve not long returned from a short sojourn in rain-drenched Birmingham. Several CFG colleagues and I donned both our waterproofs and chainmail armour in order to sally forth into the ...

I’ve not long returned from a short sojourn in rain-drenched Birmingham. Several CFG colleagues and I donned both our waterproofs and chainmail armour in order to sally forth into the number-crunchers’ front-line of battle - community accountancy...!

For those not in the know, a community accountancy service (CAS) is defined as “a project or organisation which seeks to support voluntary and community organisations (VCOs) on issues of financial management and accounting.” The focus of the support is normally on the small to medium VCOs – those with less than £250,000 annual income, and the majority of the support provided by CASs is to organisations with under £100,000 income. Community accountants therefore deal with a plethora of local VCOs and all the associated challenges of financial management.

CASs provide services such as preparation of accounts, independent examination, book-keeping, payroll, business planning, support for accounting software, plus advice on relevant HR and governance issues. CFG has over the past eight years developed its relationship with the representative body for community accountants: CANn (the Community Accountancy National network) which is nobly led by its Chair, John O’Brien. But, in fact, my first encounter with a community accountant was way back in 1990 when, managing the finances of a housing rights charity, I needed some help with a local funding matter.

In the years that followed I relied on the CAS to provide me with training and information on the more challenging issues like VAT or the introduction of the first Charities SoRP. In 2013 CANn and its members had become a Special Interest Group of CFG and this year, 2014, was our first formal involvement in the annual Community Accountancy Conference, which is organised by John O’Brien together with fellow community accountants Jeanette Stafford and Judith Harrison. It runs along similar lines to CFG’s events: several concurrent streams providing sessions on topics such as: PAYE legislation, cloud accounting, sustainable CASs, public service delivery(challenges and opportunities), pensions, SoRP, plus HR and VAT updates. Joe Irvin, CEO of NAVCA, got the conference off to a great start with an opening plenary rally call. The quality of workshops was excellent and there was never a shortage of audience participation as presenters were mercilessly grilled for information – community accountants are practitioners working out in the field dealing daily with a huge cross-section of not-for-profit organisations. They therefore come across, between them, quite an array of accounting and tax challenges; not to mention matters such as cash flow, insolvency, or trustee liability.

The event, however, departs a little from the CFG “norm” by running over two days and providing dinner and entertainment, usually in the form of live music – CFG’s Kat Smithson and myself stunned the conference with our barn dancing prowess at the 2012 event… Community accountants certainly know how to work hard and play hard! Towards the end of the conference, after an inspiring presentation from CFG’s CEO Caron Bradshaw, CANn’s members voted unanimously to formally become a part of CFG. The Community Accountancy Special Interest Group will continue to have an autonomous committee and its assets will be held in a restricted fund for the promotion of CASs.

CFG is very much looking forward to supporting and working further with the community accountants, who provide a lifeline to the not-for-profit organisations least able to afford in-house financial management. We will also be examining ways we can help to further develop the reach of community accountancy across England and Wales.

Here’s to the 2015 conference!

This post was last reviewed on 8 August 2018 at 14:59
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