Bernard Ginns: Best to leave your flashy car at home for the client visits

CONFIDENT, clean-cut and always assured, this particular partner at a Big Four accountancy firm is also noted for his discretion.

This is especially so when it comes to displays of wealth; he will never arrive at a client meeting in a flashy car.

No, the Aston Martin stays at home in the garage during the week.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Instead, he likes to conduct his business in an understated BMW, just to set the right tone of efficiency and authority when he visits the businesses that pay his firm’s fees.

This is an anecdotal story of course, but it contains a serious message and a question that corporate Yorkshire should be asking itself: does it get value for money from the Big Four accountancy firms?

Reliable sources tell me that a new partner at a typical Big Four accountancy firm in Yorkshire will get paid around £250,000 a year. He or she can expect this to increase by £50,000 a year.

It is not uncommon for partners with several years’ experience to be earning more than half a million pounds a year in this region, never mind London.

The earnings of Big Four partners have been more or less steady during the downturn thanks to their recession-proof business models.

It doesn’t matter that corporate finance activity was down in 2008, 2009 and 2010, the rise in income from restructuring work made up for the loss.

Demand for tax advice has been on the rise as corporates navigate new regulations, helping to generate more fees. Audit, the core business, has remained solid throughout.

Now, let’s look at the businesses that they service, the ones at the heart of the Yorkshire economy, the ones taking the risks and creating the wealth and jobs that our prosperity depends upon.

According to BDO’s Yorkshire Report, the annual analysis of the region’s 150 biggest companies, the average director’s emolument fell four per cent last year to £178,000. That’s significantly, unaccountably less than the new Big Four partner as described above.

Who is more important to the regional economy? The wealth creators and risk takers, or the advisers that sell them services?

I will leave that question hanging in the air. It is ultimately one for the procurement panels to decide.

Farewell Peter O’Toole, the actor who played Lawrence of Arabia and one-time reporter of this parish.

News of his passing brought to mind a very memorable day at the start of my career in journalism.

I had caught a bus to BBC Television Centre to meet Patricia Hitchcock, the only child of Alfred Hitchcock.

She was in London for the unveiling of an English Heritage blue plaque at her father’s former home in South Kensington and for a retrospective of his films at the National Film Theatre.

The plan was to conduct an interview during a taxi ride to Marylebone High Street, where Ms Hitchcock had another interview scheduled.

I recall that our interview went well; she revealed a human side to the film director responsible for ground-breaking cinema such as Psycho, North by Northwest and Vertigo.

I asked about her father’s favourite food; cod roes and buttered potatoes, she said. Little details are always telling.

We finished the interview in a coffee shop and made small talk while she waited for her session at the radio station.

Ms Hitchcock asked how long I had been on the local newspaper.

A few weeks of work experience, I replied, but that morning I had been appointed to the staff – my first proper, paid job in journalism.

Ms Hitchcock opened her handbag and started looking through it. Inside, she found what she was looking for – a gift watch featuring the famous minimalist caricature of her father’s profile.

She gave me the watch and congratulated me on my news. What a moment. I wish I knew where it was.

Later that evening, I crossed the Thames to the Old Vic for a revival of Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, starring Peter O’Toole as the hard-drinking columnist in Keith Waterhouse’s play about a lock-in at the Coach and Horses.

The actor, a close friend of Mr Bernard, wrote of the play: “The tinkle of a shilling, the praise of strangers and, blessedly, of friends, success in our work. That, in my view, is a great deal of what it’s all about.”

I’ll raise a glass to that.