Is the Accountant in Bankruptcy’s office making the same mistakes as the UK Money Advice Service? Alan McIntosh explains why he thinks they are. 

Just in case you missed it, in a scene that was like a throwback to the days of New Labour spin, Scotland’s Accountant in Bankruptcy yesterday re-released a press statement from last month.

She was re-announcing that her office had entered a partnership with North Ayrshire Citizen Advice Service to provide an in-house advice service at their office in Kilwinning. Ominously, in the statement NACAS had been elevated to the status of being a Nationally Accredited Information and Advice Provider.

As is often the case in public relations and politics, terminology is crucial: the changing of a word in a statement can change its meaning; change a phrase and you can change a policy. So although it’s true to state NACAS are accredited under the Scottish National Standards for Advice and Information Providers, by calling them a Nationally Accredited Information and Advice Provider we could be saying something else. Especially when such a description is used in the context of also highlighting that they are dealing with clients from as far away as Inverness and Arbroath.

North Ayrshire Citizen Advice Service is an excellent local service, but there is a danger the AIB is now attempting to represent them as being the embryo of a new national advice service for its own political reasons.

Recently the Scottish Government had floated the idea that the AIB should be given an advice function. This idea was overwhelmingly rejected by almost all in the advice, insolvency and creditor industries at every consultation event held. It would appear, however, the true purpose of providing such a function was really to take forward the idea of creating a national helpline service in Scotland. This was made clear in a statement released by the AIB to money advisers the day after the first consultation event, when the strength of opposition became evident. They sought two money advisers to work in a pilot “national” advice project. Challenged in The Firm as to how they could operate such a project, Rosemary Winter Scott, the Accountant in Bankruptcy, later denied the project would be part of them.

It has transpired since then, however the national project was being heavily promoted and funded by the beleaguered and discredited Money Advice Service, which only last month was flogged publicly by its own stakeholders and the celebrity journalist, Martin Lewis when they gave evidence to the Treasury Sub Committee at Westminster. It was accused of being unfocused, overly involved in brand building and duplicating existing services that still had capacity, such as helpline services.

It is now clear that the Accountant in Bankruptcy’s office has become contaminated by the illness that infects their new funding host, the Money Advice Service and seems destined to repeat the same mistakes. There is no need for a national helpline service in Scotland. We already have organisations such as the National Debtline and charities like the Consumer Credit Counselling Service, both of which still have capacity.

There is a danger the AIB, in receipt of the Money Advice Service’s funding, is listening to them rather than listening to the debt advice sector in Scotland.

In these times of austerity, additional resources should be used to fill gaps not duplicate existing services; help should be given to those that cannot access telephone help lines or internet services, but need the support of face to face services in communities like Inverness, Arbroath and Kilwinning.

The advice sector in Scotland does not need spin, or yesterday’s chip wrapping becoming today’s news, it needs support. It doesn’t need the Money Advice Service’s folly becoming the Accountant in Bankruptcy’s.