Focus: Finance and Governance - Outlook - Find the right level of transparency

Chris Harris, director of finance and resources at Action for Blind People

I was on a train recently, when someone using the toilet pressed the emergency stop button instead of the flush. I know this because the guard and driver had a discussion about it that was relayed to the whole train over the PA system.

The information was not wrong, but it was not intended for broadcast and, although much innocent fun was had by many, at least one person on the train suffered acute embarrassment.

Like many finance directors, I have just completed the annual accounts - a delicate process of providing information while trying to avoid embarrassment, intended or otherwise.

If in doubt, say nothing remains the unspoken guiding principle, but with all charities now implementing Sorp 2005, further disclosure is unavoidable.

Readers and writers of accounts need to raise their game - there is more information, but that gives more scope for misunderstanding. Writers now have guidance from the Charity Commission and can follow the lead of the charities that adopted the principles last year, but the process is stretching - especially for charities with turnover exceeding £1m, which have to bear in mind the requirements of the Standard Information Return.

We can't avoid the fact that charity finance is becoming increasingly specialist; accountants continue to be recruited from other sectors, but there is little scope for formal training on charity matters. There is a one-day course with the Charity Finance Directors' Group at one end, or a masters degree at the other.

And although the members of the Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies each have their own slants on becoming an accountant, none of them are particularly helpful for trainee accountants working in a charity and wanting training relevant to the job.

This should change from this autumn, with the establishment of the Certificate in Charity Finance and Accountancy - a joint award issued by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy and London South Bank University.

The certificate will bring affiliate membership of CIPFA and certification from the LSBU. But it will also be a step on the ladder to either a full CIPFA professional accounting qualification or the LSBU MSc in Charity Accounting and Financial Management.

I hope that this endeavour - and others like it - will be successful, because finance staff need as much help as they can get to improve the financial management of charities. If we can raise our game, then all we need to do is educate the readers.

Applicants for the certificate course can contact Nigel Scott on 020 7815 7760 or email


- New requirements mean readers and writers of accounts must raise their game

- Charity finance is becoming more specialist, and there is a need for more training options.

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