The art of persuasion: AAT’s work with the government

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Reflecting on current policy priorities and giving an insight into the challenges we face in influencing policy makers on behalf of our community.

Our engagement in policy and public affairs activity is an integral element underpinning our strategic aims. Ultimately, we recognise that we can add value to members, students, employers and training providers by supporting the development of, and advocating for, policy that keeps the profession relevant, drives up standards and builds responsible business.

The consultation clash

In recent times we have been actively engaged in two contrasting – but equally important – consultations, both with significant implications on AAT members, the wider profession and the general public. One of these consultations, issued on the back of the Chancellor’s Spring Budget Statement, is focused on the need to raise standards in the tax advisory sphere, where the issue of unqualified and unregulated tax advisers remains a serious challenge (the focus of our longstanding Accountable campaign). The other, now closed, consultation that we responded to last year, is centred on the future of the UK’s Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regime.

Both timely, both important and both very relevant to us and the wider profession. But a closer look reveals a schism. The HMRC consultation on raising standards in the tax advice market includes a proposed approach whereby tax practitioners will be required to hold membership of a recognised professional body, with the regulatory framework strengthened through those bodies monitoring and enforcing standards as a means to raise them.

By contrast, the Treasury’s consultation over reforms to the AML supervisory landscape ostensibly has at its heart a set of recommendations or proposals that would potentially result in most, if not all, of the professional accountancy/tax bodies that currently fulfil monitoring and enforcement roles through their professional body supervisor status for AML purposes, losing that status.

Challenging and supporting policy-makers

This seemingly contradictory approach being taken by two government departments is an example of the challenges we encounter in our drive to influence policy-makers. Inevitably we are drawing out the challenges represented by this inconsistency whilst supporting the basic principles behind the two government departments’ ambitions, but we’re also arguing that the inextricable link between the two does need further, joined-up, consideration.

Another issue AAT is currently engaging with is the planned simultaneous developments to Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs) and End Point Assessments (EPA) – the independent assessment of the knowledge, skills and behaviours learnt throughout an apprenticeship. The issue is a complicated one, but given our role as an awarding body, the planned reforms present us once again with the challenge of addressing and engaging with different departments with different agendas on a similar topic, with a genuine risk of a muddled outcome that won’t benefit the ultimate stakeholders: learners.

In this instance, as opposed to submitting a consultation response, we are embarking on an outreach programme with key parliamentarians in a bid to highlight the concerns we have about the impact these developments will have on individual learners.

Community drive for change

On this issue, as is often the case with our policy engagement, AAT is but one of a number of organisations that is likely to be impacted. As such we often work in partnership with other awarding bodies and professional bodies to amplify and reinforce our concerns. Being part of a wider collective voice can be hugely effective; nevertheless, if we find ourselves taking a different viewpoint from others, clearly articulating our perspective can also deliver results.

The point here is that the policy landscape can be unpredictable, often requiring us to respond quickly to emerging and urgent issues as well as similarly requiring the stamina for what can be longer-term campaigns where patience and resilience are important elements in our drive to influence policy.

Whether that’s advocating for greater resourcing of HMRC to help the UK government raise revenues and close the tax gap, or lobbying for greater government action on late payments to SMEs, the results we have achieved over the years hopefully demonstrate how we have added value to the stakeholders across our community.

Purpose of our public affairs activity

The ultimate aim of our public affairs activity is to establish AAT as an organisation that is recognised by government and political stakeholders as a thought leader that influences the policy debate across the UK to the benefit of members, students and AAT’s charitable objectives, and therefore underpinning a commitment to delivering to a wider public benefit agenda.

Being in the beneficial position of representing a diverse community presents a heady mix of opportunity and challenge. We are committed to being evidence-led in our activities, therefore the wealth of experience and opinions that members of our stakeholder community represent a rich seam of evidence, but also means that there will be conflicting opinions and viewpoints that we will need to consider. Nevertheless, if we are to be effective in delivering on our aim, we recognise the importance of having an authentic voice, backed up with relevant detail.

To do that effectively, and to give added clarity to our voice, we need our members’ engagement. Experience shows that a submission to a given consultation that includes real and considered input from members in the field is so much more compelling. We have a mission to drive positive change areas across our key priority policy areas, so your input and voice can amplify the work that we do. And while you can’t please all the people all the time, we certainly won’t stop trying.

Adam Harper is AAT's Director of Professional Standards & Policy..

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