News in brief

– Governments may prevent the formation of multi-disciplinary partnerships combining accountants and lawyers under EU law, a judge of the European Court of Justice has suggested. In a formal opinion to the ECJ, Philippe Leger said that a law that prohibits collaboration ‘may be justified’.

The judge, whose statement is not binding, was speaking after considering a venture between branches of Andersen and PwC in the Netherlands where MDPs have been banned. He added that the very essence of the legal profession ‘could preclude the establishment of a community of financial interests’ with accountants. He said the ban was ‘the measure least damaging to competition’, noting ‘other forms of cooperation between the two professions remain possible’.

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– announced last week the departure of its chief financial officer at the end of the month. Julian Culhane, who has headed the online retailer’s finances since November 1999, will leave the company to continue working with mergers and acquisitions, his speciality. He will be replaced by David Howell, former finance director of First Choice Holidays.

More on the dotcom CFO’s last-minute exit at

– SSL International has announced the appointment of a new non-executive chairman two days before an annual general meeting in which it is to decide on the future of its auditors. Ian Martin, current chairman of Uniq, will replace Stuart Wallis at SSL in September. Shareholders in the beleaguered Durex condom manufacturer, which has been under investigation over errors in its accounts, are expected to vote on the re-appointment of Andersen as auditor.

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– Ernst & Young has appointed James Turley, 46, to be its youngest-ever global chairman. His appointment follows the retirement of Philip Laskawy who worked for the firm for 40 years and spent the last seven as chairman.

Laskawy said: ‘I look forward to Jim Turley’s leadership. He represents the experience, energy and dedication that will carry E&Y forward to continued growth and success.’

Ernst & Young’s website is at

– The NHS summarised accounts for 1999-2000 have been given a clean bill of health by the National Audit Office. The combined deficit for the 99 health authorities and 377 trusts hit #129m, more than double the previous year’s figure. However, the NAO noted forecasts predicted a surplus of #37m next year. The report also revealed NHS organisations were investigating 484 cases of suspected fraud, valued at a total cost of #18m.

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– WH Smith’s former finance director Keith Hamill is leading a team of investors bidding for the high street retailer’s newspaper distribution business. The company put the division up for sale in April following a dispute on a national distribution deal. Smith’s said it would use the #215m expected from the sale to make acquisitions in Europe. Hamill faces opposition from Lloyd Wrigglesworth, former MD of Smith’s distribution business.

More on this at

– The government’s e-envoy Andrew Pinder said online tax returns have so far been a failure. He said the service ‘is not exactly user-friendly’, as users had to fill the form in again if they got anything wrong. Problems include delays in processing returns and the Inland Revenue’s computers crashing. But he said the service would improve this year and he is in talks with accounting software companies to enhance the government’s current services.

The full story is at

– Stephen Byers, secretary of state for local government, is set to take control of London’s Hackney Borough Council after the Audit Commission found its financial position was worse than anticipated. The commission said Hackney had been unable to control its finances and lacked the management capacity ‘to procure services effectively’. Byers has the power to intervene under the Local Government Act 1999.

This article is available online at

– Ombudsman Michael Buckley said he had postponed, but not abandoned, his investigation into alleged mistakes by regulatory authorities over last year’s crisis at Equitable Life. Buckley said he has started receiving complaints about the ‘alleged failure’ of the regulatory bodies to supervise the insurer’s affairs adequately.

The complete article is at

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