A concerned accounting profession is seeking assurances that auditor liability reform remains on the agenda following Tony Blair’s ministerial reshuffle.
Alan Johnson, the former minister for pensions, will have the ultimate decision over whether auditors receive protection from catastrophic litigation after he was named as the secretary of state in charge of industry.
But concerns are rising over whether pressure from the backbenches could result in the company law reform bill, which includes changes to the liability regime, failing to obtain a parliamentary slot.
Peter Wyman, head of professional affairs at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said there was a possibility that the whole companies bill could be omitted from the Queen’s speech next week, in favour of a more radical agenda. ‘Company law reform, as they say, is always important but never urgent,’ said Wyman.
The responsibility for the companies bill is set to pass to former rural affairs minister Alun Michael, and the profession is gearing up to argue its case all over again.
‘Obviously Jacqui Smith pressed for liability reform personally, it almost became a bit of a crusade,’ said Jonathan Labrey, head of public affairs at the ICAEW.
‘Now she has moved on, we will be pressing very strongly and working with the new team to ensure auditor liability remains on the agenda.’
Labrey said the institute would be making representations to the new Department for Productivity, Energy and Industry this week.
Johnson takes over responsibility of the renamed department, after Patricia Hewitt was promoted to health secretary. Industry minister Jacqui Smith, who brokered the deal between accountants and investors on audit liability, has become minister for schools.
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