Brussels has called for more British accountants to join the European Commission after the Court of Auditors refused to sign off the EC's accounts for the fifth successive time. Britain's most senior court representative, John Wiggins, told Accountancy Age that very few UK accountants had applied for previous jobs despite there being lots of qualified professionals in this country. 'UK candidates were severely under-represented in the last competition. We are more or less at quota for qualified auditors but we need more coming through,' he said. Both the commission and the court recently launched a competition to recruit over 100 qualified accountants, who are desperately needed if the commission is to receive a positive opinion from the court on its accounts next year. Last year some £3bn went unaccounted for, leaving the court to issue an adverse opinion on the legality and regularity of the transactions which underly the payments. It offered a qualified opinion on the reliability of the accounts - a less severe reprimand. Wiggins said the commission's assets were not consistently valued and depreciation was not always applied. Problems also arose in the area of money owed in customs duties where the funds likely to be collected were overstated. 'I think it is because the accounts do not reflect sensible accounting practice but legal provision,' he said. Wiggins suggested the commission bring in temporary staff during its peak periods of February to April - thus offering firms a chance to second accountants. But the court is also working hard to produce more detailed audits and Wiggins said this was the first year that the institution had invested more in order to take a detailed view. Although publicly the court expressed disappointment at the latest set of figures, which will be seized upon by euro-sceptics as an indication that the high-level fraud which has dogged the commission still continues, Wiggins was more optimistic. 'There is more serious effort and at the level of the commission, the culture on the clearance of accounts is rather good, but there will probably not be any general improvement until around 2001,' he pointed out.
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