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Carillion fallout: FRC ‘under threat’

The future of the Financial Reporting Council has been thrown into doubt after the government promised an independent inquiry into its whole operation.

May 2017

Business Secretary Greg Clark has said he is ordering a review into the accountancy watchdog, which has been criticised for not being tough enough on the auditors and firms who fail to spot problems at companies that later collapse.
Created in 1990, the FRC has come under increasing pressure following the collapse of BHS and now Carillion. Concerns were raised when it cleared KPMG over the audit of HBOS, and it took 12 years to fine Deloitte over MG Rover failings.
A call for the FRC to be put into special measures recently came from the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF), an influential pension body. It has said that commissioners should be put in place until a fully independent agency can replace it.
The LAPFF claims that the regulator is just too cosy with the Big 4 firms and the CBI. The inference here is that the FRC has been captured by corporate elites.
CEO Stephen Haddrill told the Financial Times in mid-March that the FRC had changed its mind and now believed that it may have to force the Big 4 firms to hive off their auditing divisions into ‘audit only’ firms. He also revealed he is in talks with the Competition & Markets Authority about opening a new investigation into the audit market.
Haddrill admitted the FRC should have have adopted a more proactive approach to its early enquiries into HBOS. In a letter to the Treasury Select Committee, he said it should have stepped forward rather than relying on other regulators to do their job first. Haddrill said he had taken onboard the criticism that the FRC has “too many people with a background in the major accounting firms we regulate”. He said the FRC was now conducting a further review of this aspect of its governance.
New £10m fines for seriously poor audit work were put forward in early 2018 by the independent review into the FRC’s enforcement sanctions. The recommendation was an almost doubling of current fines.
Events may have now overtaken all this.

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