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Read the Annual Report of the Committee and Minutes from the 2020 virtual AGM

A year in review and plans for the future were raised at this year's 2020 virtual annual general meeting of the South Wales Society.

Speech given by Anne Smith BSc, FCA, BFP, CTA President of the South Wales Society of Chartered Accountants

"Good evening everybody and thank you for joining us. We have a Quorum and I'm very grateful for your support of this meeting in these unusual circumstances.

Normally on this occasion we look forward to a very pleasant meal afterwards and to properly welcoming our incoming president. Unfortunately we can’t enjoy that at this time; however I still hope that Nick will have chance to arrange an event later in the year and I’ll explain this further in a moment.

First of all if we may cast our minds back to a time without coronavirus...

When I was originally invited to take office, I expected my year to be defined by MTD, Brexit and the introduction of Welsh income tax. Those three developments have all come to pass in principle, but in practice there’s still work to do. Just as a digression in relation to MTD, HMRC have developed the Job Retention grant and the self-employed equivalent from a standing start within about the last six weeks – and I think the success of those initiatives (I know there’ve been issues and glitches, but when you think of the scale of the task..) I think the success of those initiatives from a digital perspective is very likely to encourage the Government towards escalating digital interaction going forward when we emerge from this pandemic. Watch this space!

Looking back over the last year, though, not a lot else has actually happened of note in those areas, and while the Institute have been grappling with audit reform, governance and trust in the profession, at a high level locally, our committee focus has been on two main areas (although I have to say everything has been superseded to some extent by the effect of the pandemic):

  • Firstly, the structure and composition of our committee (and indeed its geographic reach, bearing in mind Welsh devolution). Over the years we’ve consistently looked to refresh the committee membership to try to make sure it’s representative of our local membership in the South Wales community (- by which I mean age profile, gender, and career background – reflecting members in business/profession/public sector/education/recruitment). But life within accountancy is changing at pace – it was already, before this pandemic. And it’s important for any organisation to have purpose, so we wanted to take this time, in this year or so, to bring new clarity and perhaps a new flexibility into our terms of reference and roles and responsibilities within the committee, so that we can continue to be relevant, supporting our local Society members and local businesses in as many useful ways as possible, as these changes emerge.

    Several very talented women have recently attended our committee meetings as observers, and I hope that they’ll join us on a more permanent basis, to continue sharing their perspectives on the impacts of AI, data analytics, digitalisation, local devolution, and so on, in our local business life. I hope they won’t mind me mentioning (to give you an idea) that we’ve been pleased to welcome Hannah Heath finance director and first female board member of SA Brain and Co, Suzie Lloyd FC of Quantum Advisory, DJ Medway of Head4Talent, Bethan Pearce head of Financial Reporting at the BBC, and Sarah Prescott chief financial officer of Valleys to Coast Housing. All of those ladies have important contributions to make from their day to day experience, and they’ve already given valuable and sensible feedback.

    We always appreciate all input generally from our membership, though, particularly as we move forward into the uncharted territory of what is being called the New Normal. Please let us know what support you need from us. Do you want virtual support; are you comfortable to resume professional networking events when advised we can do so; do you need new skills training, mental health support, IT support ? Do you still want face-to-face technical meetings? What concerns can we help with? This will genuinely help us to shape the best way forward.

  • Secondly in this last year, all UK District Societies were challenged with the task of contributing to a national effort to encourage sustainability – and if I may briefly explain the context, the starting point is the [17] UN sustainability goals (or SDGs), which are very well summarised on the ICAEW Sustainability hub, and if I may quote from that:

    ‘Sustainability is about taking a long-term perspective that integrates social, environmental and economic considerations.
    It means living and doing business in ways that meet human needs today, without breaching planetary limits, and without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their own needs. ‘

    It’s about much more than climate change, although that is one of the obvious factors. The Institute is considering measurement, and whether the costs of using planetary resources should be more obviously reflected in company accounts.

    At a local level, we considered our stakeholders, and where we can bring influence and lead best practice by example, as a committee, as members, by contributing to Welsh Government developments, and supporting local businesses in this regard.

    We have ideas and hope to build on these, but ironically as a starting point and to reduce our carbon footprint, this led us towards testing virtual participation in our own committee and strategy board meetings, just weeks before the onset of the current lock down. I suspect we’ve each of us accelerated that learning curve quite considerably since then!

  • The UN SDGs are also about diversity and inclusivity, and coincidentally, 2020 marks a century since the first female member, Mary Harris Smith, was admitted to ICAEW membership. We considered how we might mark this occasion to positively look forward and inspire today's young professional women and indeed all others in our community and our membership, to have confidence to fulfill their aspirations, and to also mark the changing trends of leadership today, in light of the other developments I’ve already mentioned - AI etc , the calls for more responsible production and consumption and more global partnerships. Unfortunately, we’ve had to abandon a panel discussion that had been arranged for March, but the messages are still important and we’ll come back to this theme.

So those are the two high level topics of this last year.

As ever, there’ve been day to day highs and lows in the year. We had a busy and very enjoyable day on 17th of October, beginning with the first afternoon tea event to celebrate and thank the life members of the ICAEW in South Wales. Later we celebrated exam successes including two national award winners Joanna Finlay and Jodie Beth Williams of the Wales Audit Office. The day concluded with our annual dinner at the City Hall which was filled to capacity. We had an entertaining speech from The Right Honourable the Lord [William] Hague of Richmond, and our members and our local community showed exceptional generosity in raising £4,000 towards Dementia UK, earmarked specifically to help dementia sufferers in South Wales.

Conversely though, we were deeply saddened by the loss of Hilary May-Hill who passed away on the 28th of October after her battle with cancer. Hilary was the first female chartered accountant in South East Wales, qualifying in 1966, and Hilary and her husband Richard and son Rupert, and Rupert's wife Sarah, have all been staunch supporters of the South Wales Society over the years, to whom we owe our genuine thanks. I’m pleased that we’ve agreed with the family that we will this year introduce a new annual student prize in Hilary’s name and in her memory.

I cannot express how grateful I am for the support of Emma and Martin, and of our executive team Nick, Jared, Mark, and Harri as immediate past president, and our treasurer, Andrew. They willingly give their input and time to Society matters and events, while fielding their own demanding day jobs, and I want to convey my heartfelt thanks for their help in the last year, and especially in these last few months.

I’m also grateful to all of our committee, not just for their indulgence of our forays this year into virtual meetings and sustainability, but for the part each and every one of them plays in keeping us up to date with developments and ideas from their own Society role, that may contribute to helping our work.

And I want to thank you, and all of our Society members, for supporting our events, for your valuable feedback and for your understanding during this difficult pandemic period of uncertainty.

Lastly, bringing you right up to date, and before we move on to the main business of the AGM, I’d like to briefly update you of decisions we’ve made as we moved into the current lockdown period. There are two aspects.

  • Firstly our events. Following lengthy discussions with each member and volunteer host involved in delivering the planned events, decisions were made in the last few months concerning the Society’s bespoke event offering for this year. We had to cancel many and postpone some of the events. Some could be moved on line, and we are currently still hopeful that the quiz night and the annual golf day may proceed in the early Autumn.

    Emma has done a wonderful job since the lock down with her weekly email updates of events and support available centrally from the ICAEW.

    We’ll continue to consider over the next months how we can start to bring our local events back into play. The pandemic has forced a pause for thought and perspective, and to some extent we now have a clean sheet over the course of this summer. I’ve already mentioned that we’ll very much welcome your guidance as to how you’d like us to support you going forward. Please help us to get it right, or to quote Rishi Sunak, to get it done.

  • Secondly, in relation to our executive team, in light of the pandemic crisis, it’s been proposed by several other district societies around the UK that the incumbent President should remain in-situ during this crisis to “steer” their Society for a further six months to October 2020, as the principal office holder charged with making financial decisions on the future of events, and communications and initiatives on behalf of their local membership.

    Following discussions with the executive group, we intend that our Society will follow a similar pattern, although we did decide to proceed with this virtual 2020 AGM today. As part of the normal business of the AGM, therefore, and as incumbent president, I will jump to item 8 for a moment if I may, and inform you of the forthcoming new South Wales Society office holders, as follows:

    • To recap, I will remain as President up to and including 31st October 2020 (18 month tenure)
    • Nick Rowe will be installed as the President from 1 November 2020 until May 2022 (18 month tenure), returning us then to the normal May changeover … so
    • Jared Davies will take the President’s role in May 2022; and
    • Mark Etchells will take the President’s role in May 2023

We have all discussed and considered these proposals and we’re in unanimous agreement with this decision, which has been supported also by the DS committee. I’m very grateful to Nick for agreeing to take up the extended 18 month tenure for his Presidency, and to Jared and Mark for agreeing to defer their year of office. I do believe the proposals make sense in these current unusual circumstances.

We’re hopeful that the Autumn season might bring more normality to our daily lives and routine. However, as a committee we’re aware that corporate entertainment may not feature highly on the agenda of businesses battling to get back on track in what will undoubtedly be a testing economic climate. Therefore, we intend to cancel the 2020 Annual Dinner at the City Hall and to reschedule this to October 2021. Under the revised tenure, Nick will be the Society President in October 2021 and will therefore have the opportunity to host that Annual Dinner event next year.

For this Autumn 2020, we’ve agreed with the committee that we should focus our efforts on delivering business critical events, subject to continuously reviewing our offering against the emerging situation, and subject of course to feedback from our Society members (and subject also I hope to a welcome event for Nick).

If you have questions or thoughts after today about our future local event programme, or any other support that we can give, please contact Emma or Martin or any of the committee members. We will be very pleased to hear from you.

Thank you all again for your considerable support in this last year."