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Audit and Corporate Governance Reform

Volume 741: debated on Thursday 30 November 2023

2. What recent progress her Department has made on bringing forward legislative proposals on reform of audit and corporate governance. (900368)

We remain committed to reform. Significant reforms have already been delivered to the Financial Reporting Council to strengthen its capabilities and drive up audit quality.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland has branded the Government’s decision to leave the audit and governance reform Bill out of the King’s Speech as a lost opportunity and a huge blow to the interests of UK businesses and the public. The Government have been promising the Bill since 2021. Will they reconsider that backward step and make the UK’s corporate regulatory framework fit for purpose in the 21st century?

Time and again, Opposition parties seek to wrap businesses up in red tape, whereas Conservatives are keen to cut red tape. Consultation with businesses revealed concerns about imposing additional reporting requirements, while the Government are looking to simplify and streamline existing requirements.

This week, the Business and Trade Committee took evidence from Wilko. Business collapses such as that of Wilko, Carillion, Thomas Cook and Patisserie Valerie have been a consequence of failures in the audit process, costing people their jobs and hurting investors and suppliers. Audit reform was recommended by the then Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee in 2019, and the Government offered to bring forward a draft Bill. I know the Minister wants to reduce red tape, but does he agree that some form of action is now pretty urgent?

I was delighted to give the Select Committee evidence on Wilko. The administration report on Wilko is continuing and clearly we need to see the findings, but investigations so far have not shown that director misconduct played an instrumental part in Wilko’s failure, although I think it is clear to all concerned that there were failures in management that led to the company’s demise.

How strange the change from minor to major in that response. Financial transparency and accountability are essential components of economic stability. For three years now, the Government have been promising legislation and improved checks on company finances, but they have repeatedly failed to deliver. How can the Minister justify leaving the audit and governance Bill out of the King’s Speech, when it is supported by businesses, regulators and auditors alike?

We work very closely with the Financial Reporting Council. No one can deny that the FRC has changed its approach completely and is now a much more effective regulator. Sir Jon Thompson did a fantastic job when he was there, and the current chief executive, Richard Moriarty, and chair, Jan du Plessis, are following his work. We are confident that the FRC can make sure that the UK’s corporate regime works effectively, without tying businesses up in red tape.