North of the English border Nicola Sturgeon is fighting for her political career. She has been accused by her predecessor and former mentor, Alex Salmond, of misleading the Scottish Parliament and of a broad failure of leadership around sexual harassment complaints against him.
Sturgeon has been described as a ‘complex’ politician, which is tantamount to describing someone as ‘interesting’ or ‘controversial’, and she had to endure eight gruelling hours of testimony before her peers explaining her version of events that are appearing more fuzzy and inexplicable by the day.
And that is the difference between Sturgeon and the Joint Board, the insolvency licencing examination body of the United Kingdom. As a member of the Scottish Parliament she is answerable to both Parliament itself and to the Scottish people, as a fundamental part of a democratic process. The JIEB, it appears, is answerable to no-one.
Two days after the Joint Board results were published (on 5 March) some of those who took the Paper(s) in November 2020 and who have been told they failed, are left lost and devastated, with nowhere to go. This is one of the main issues with autocracy; it does not just create a situation of acute unfairness, but alters the mindset of the autocratic, who believe they are bulletproof; beyond reproach.
There are around 1,700 registered Insolvency Practitioners (IPs) in the United Kingdom, not all of them taking appointments. One of the few things they probably all agree on is that there needs to be more of them (and fast); a lot more. There are varying views on the amount of new work that may come across the desks of those IPs, but none of them testify to it being less over the next two to five years.
After the published JIEB results on Friday, just 16 (SIXTEEN!) new Practitioners achieved a licence by passing two of two exam Papers in the most recent licencing exam. This is out of a total of 122 who took one or more Papers last November. This number is down from the high 300s just eight to ten years ago. Why are so few now studying for and taking our exam, lament the Joint Insolvency Examination Board? That’s the only easy question so far.
It is because of YOU, JIEB. Because of your reputation for unfairness. Because of your sitting on a throne of autocracy.
When the IPA royally cocked up their own exam, the CPI, in November 2020, leaving crushed and traumatised candidates in its wake, NTI took to this screen and led the siren call for them to be made accountable. One senior practitioner wrote to Neil Taylor, admonishing him, crying ‘shame’ for raising his head above the parapet, for rocking the boat and bringing the IPA to account.
But at least there is a degree of accountability for the IPA. They have members who can choose whether or not to pay membership fees; they have a Managing Director who has the nous to recognise their failings as a potential challenge to their balance sheet. The Joint Board have none of that.
When, in an article about the IPA’s failings, NTI referred to similar deficiencies by the JIEB in their inaugural hard and software-based sitting in 2018, a member of the Joint Board wrote a snotty email to us, hoping we were not tarring ‘the Board’ with a similar brush. How dare we?
For those with a memory of such things, the Joint Board’s failings in their first Computer Based Exam sitting were so miserable, they found themselves having to award additional random marks to candidates who sat at certain exam centres. Some candidates received a further, mystifyingly calculated, five marks added to their eventual score, some fewer. If you were a candidate in 2018 who received some, but not as many ‘additional marks’ as others and scored a fail mark of 44 per cent (against a pass of 45), you were not permitted to challenge the position. You were swatted away, as if foolish and silly, by an autocratic bat.
But the Board’s utter inability to self-analyse or recognise their failures does not end there. There is the horrible example of a terrific NTI student whose Personal Insolvency final paper they lost. As in, his script disappeared whilst in their custody. Despite him being a top quartile student, and after months of appeals and plaintiffly putting his case, he was made to pay for his own re-sitting of that Paper the next year.
Then there was the student who failed, having typed the correct answer to a question (which was later proven to be so by an independent adjudicator), but which was adjudged to be wrong. This candidate was placed in the preposterous position of failing the exam, having typed the right answer, when they would have passed had they typed the wrong one. (Please feel free to re-read the last couple of sentences. This is autocracy for you. It produces mind-bending inequities. It is unthinkable, but true.)
Then, in 2019, there is the example of the Manchester exam centre, where the invigilators refused to provide scrap paper for workings and planning in a CBE exam, despite the fact that the Board’s own rules state that two pages must be made available to all candiates. Not serious? Tell that to students who have to endure an on-screen exam with no opportunity to write a plan or scribble key facts of a question. Was their position recognised (it having been brought to the attention of the Board)? Was any quarter given for this clear lack of consistency, resulting in unfairness in an already mind-blowingly long and stressful exam? No.
We could go on, but won’t. Imagine the face colour of NTI’s antagonist who believe us to be wrong to objurgate an institution as untouchable as the Joint Insolvency Examination Board. But we have and we will. The NTI news bulletin on Friday 5 March received more than 6,000 hits. There is a place for criticism. There is a time to say ‘no’. There is a time to say 'enough'.
On Friday 5 March the JIEB placed a message on their website, wishing students good luck with their results. This was at a time when they knew they were about to publish the worst result in 30 years. A result of a sitting which took place during a global pandemic, with lives turned inside-out and when students didn't know, two weeks before the exam was sat, whether it would actually go ahead.
This is at a time the profession needs (many) more Practitioners and a licencing exam system that is accountable and beyond reproach.
What are NTI calling for? The profession, you, to take a stand. To call the JIEB to account. To question their methods and motivations. To put in place a modern, honourable, responsible licensing examination regime that is world class. To ask questions about whether there is a place for an exam Board which is answerable to no-one at the centre of a system producing way too few Insolvency Practitioners.
Prove to us it is not only we who care, really care about the future of our licenced profession.