- is there a natural tension between BK's and accountants? - i.e a feeling that BK's hoover up all of potential revenue for accountants so that people can get away with spending less by just having the accountant sign off on their work at the end of the process - or is this unfair?
I would doubt that very much, to me they are very separate roles.
A bookkeeper would do the day-to-day accounting work, like invoicing, expenses, bank reconciliations, payroll, management reports (monthly P+L, cash forecasting etc) and preparing the 'books' for year end. Some smaller companies get away without a bookkeeper. Some probably shouldn't try to!
An accountant would take those books and analyse them and produce the statutory reports, as well as advise throughout the year on all those aspects of tax law or higher level advice. Very few accountants I know would get into the detail of bookkeeping (i.e. checking your bank statement against paid invoices, chasing overdue accounts etc).
Obviously there can be overlap, a bookkeeper might know tax law, and an accountant might do bookkeeping or payroll for smaller businesses (although they'd probably just sub it out). It's unlikely a bookkeeper would do a full set of accounts nowadays.
A good bookkeeper can act as the buffer between management and the accountant, and is a very important role for a smaller business, because many company directors are quite hopeless at bookkeeping and don't see beyond what's in the bank account or invoices floating in an "unpaid" status.
Also worth bearing in mind that a bookkeeper could work for quite a few companies on a freelance basis, many businesses might only need a few hours or a day per week.