PracticeAuditOn the frontline: Alun Michael, minister for industry

On the frontline: Alun Michael, minister for industry

How prepared is Alun Michael to win the fight for limited auditor liability?

If one was to compare MPs to boxers then Alun Michael, the new minister in charge of company law reform, would be the Nigel Benn of politics – a hardened veteran who knows what it’s like to get stuck in.

The 61-year-old Welshman has pushed anti-social behaviour orders through parliament and endured vociferous protests from the hunting-lobby for presiding over the divisive hunting bill – some so vicious that Michael had his car pelted with raw eggs and was forced to call off several government and party engagements.

But having survived his battles, Michael is now preparing to go 15 rounds with angst-ridden auditors and blood-thirsty investors, as he takes on responsibility for auditor liability reform.

As the new minister for industry in the revamped Department for Productivity, Energy and Industry, Michael will take over from Jacqui Smith who, according to some commentators, made auditor liability reform a personal crusade.

Smith played an integral part in brokering a deal between auditors and investors on the issue of auditor liability reform, but it will be left to Michael to ensure all her hard work doesn’t go to waste.

Michael, who holds the Cardiff South and Penarth seat, first came to parliament in 1987 when he inherited a safe Labour seat from former prime minister James Callaghan. He has been a member of the Queen’s privy council since 1998.

For Michael, formerly rural affairs minister, the main showdown will be with his fellow MPs and ministers. He will need to convince them that the company law reform bill, which includes changes to the liability regime, should stay on the political agenda.

Not nearly as controversial as fox hunting, nor as headline-grabbing ASBOs, Michael is likely to have a hard time persuading his colleagues to secure a parliamentary slot for the bill. The audit profession might have got lucky, however. Michael has proved to be a tough operator.

Having successfully steered the controversial fox-hunting bill through parliament, the Keele University graduate has also shown he has the skills to talk people round and the tenacity to deliver results in the face of strong opposition.

Nevertheless, indications are that Michael will have to use all his political know-how to keep liability reform in the spotlight, after one commentator described company law reform as being ‘important but never urgent’ among politicians.

So, although not as high profile as some of his other battles, Michael will have a fight on his hands. The accounting profession will hope his political fists are still loaded with thunder and that he will have another knock out to his name soon.

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