The societies are not homogeneous in composition; the majority are unincorporated associations (with some being Limited Companies) and there is currently no standardised way of working for them all to follow. The perception amongst the membership and external parties, however, is that the societies are interlinked with ICAEW and that actions taken, liabilities incurred, and contracts entered by the Societies are done so with the approval of and/or on behalf of the ICAEW. This perception is further reinforced by joint branding and communications etc.
Given the above perception, in 2019, a review was undertaken to assess whether the existing arrangements remained appropriate. The review concluded that the current structures/entities should remodel to reflect changes in legislation as, in their current form, societies, volunteers and the Institute were potentially exposed to unnecessary reputational and financial risk.
In response to the recommendations of the review, it was agreed to establish a new structure - the District Societies Local Communities Pilot (now referred to as ICAEW Local Networks) - which would enable societies to engage with and support members in a way which significantly reduced the burden on volunteers, and which minimised the reputational and operational risk to all parties.
The new structure offers a clear and formalised relationship which not only enables ICAEW staff to support the operational and governance aspects of the society, but also ensures that the time volunteers have is focused on contact time with members and doing what our local groups do best, which is to deliver ICAEW strategy at a local level. It also allows for best practice to be shared and ensuring consistency of offering to members locally.
The new Networks will be a direct extension of ICAEW, managed by a local Network Board, which will operate in a similar fashion to the existing society committee. Networks are intended as an improved way of organising regional activities going forward, but the change of structure is in no way intended to change the substance of what is done – namely, working with ICAEW for the benefit of local members.
There is a clear and existing precedent for this model as ICAEW Scotland has always been part of ICAEW and has never been an independent group. It has operated successfully for over 20 years in precisely the same way as proposed under the Networks model. It should be noted that most of the Societies support the change, and some signed up to become early adopters of this change from 1 January 2023.
The West Yorkshire & York Society of Chartered Accountants and its active branches York and Huddersfield are in favour of the above changes (as agreed at office holder and committee level) and will become a new ICAEW West and North Yorkshire local network on 1 January 2024. It should be noted that the existing District Society will not be dissolved and will continue to exist in a “shell “or legacy form. It will adopt an amended constitution which changes the objectives of the Society to the following: "to hold and manage reserves (whilst they remain) in a way that furthers the principal objective of the ICAEW which is to advance the theory and practice of accountancy”.
The legacy DS will be run by a committee of trustees, with a President, Deputy President and will include member representation from the dissolved York and Huddersfield branches (all branch funds will be ringfenced for local ICAEW activity). The trustees will decide how reserves should be used, and the Society will remain independent of ICAEW.