The PSA Series: The CIPFA/ICAS Qualification

PSA to Dublin

The next guest blog in the PSA series comes from Will, a graduate in the Liverpool office…

Reading this title you may be wondering what PSA is? In short, think ‘standard’ commercial audit but only for public sector entities such as councils, hospitals, colleges etc. Before I applied I read everything I could find on the blog and it really helped me out, not only in terms of getting through the application but helping me understand whether PSA was a path I wanted to take. I’m an anthropology graduate so familiarity with maths wasn’t exactly at the top of my CV, but the job is just as much about people as it is about the numbers!

Currently the industry norm is that commercial auditors tend to hold a commercial accounting qualification such as ACA, ACCA or ICAS, whereas public sector accountants hold (the only) public sector qualification; CIPFA. Both of these types of qualifications are recognised around the world, with mutual recognition agreements in place with countries such as Australia and Canada.

With the changing public sector environment which you’ll have read about in the media, there’s an increasing number of public sector entities setting up units structured as commercial companies. This means that for example a council may control a commercial company which could be running their social care provision. As the market-leading public sector auditor, Grant Thornton have recognised the changing needs of our clients and have started offering to new PSA trainees the first integrated public sector and commercial accounting qualification. This means that those passing the exams are recognised as joint CIPFA/ICAS qualified.

I was really pleased that Grant Thornton have put all of their 14/15 PSA trainees on the CIPFA/ICAS course to be part of the first cohort (in the world!) to be joint qualified. For me, I see it as much more versatile which allows me to move between types of jobs and departments throughout my future career. Don’t get me wrong- I really enjoy the job but with the massive changes going on the public sector in the last 5 years, the technical requirements will change significantly over the next 10, 20 or 30 years.

We’re at the early stages of the course (we’ll sit 15 exams over the course of three years) but so far we’re already seeing clear examples of where the technical knowledge required differs between commercial and public sector entities. As a group, we trainees have had experience in a range of public sector organisations over the last few months, with our time in commercial entities coming up in the near future. We’re all looking forward to cementing our knowledge in practice and getting some experience working in both sectors, and providing useful insights to our clients. What I love about working in PSA is that we’re much more able to share best practice between our clients, leading to a more collaborative and effective public sector.

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