Big Four splurges more than £1m in Westminster

New figures reveal the full extent of the Big Four’s support for political
parties, but whether it’s political manoeuvring or nation building remains

Data released last week by the Electoral Commission revealed that the Big
Four contributed more than a million pounds during 2009 in free staff, with
almost £700,000 channeled through to the Conservative Party.

In contrast, Labour received less than £260,000 and the Liberal Democrats
accepted little more than £65,000.

However, there is more to Big Four donations than meets the eye. There is
another set of numbers that tell a different story and perhaps indicates why the
Big Four are so sensitive to political bias accusations. Last year Deloitte
earned £198m in government contracts. PwC brought in £118m.

The firms don’t want to be accused of being pro or anti-government, because a
large slice of their revenue comes from government contracts.

“We can’t afford to take sides,” one senior Big Four executive told
Accountancy Age.

The firms also point out that the Big Four tend to lean towards opposition
parties because these groups do not have a civil service at their disposal to
provide the research needed to underpin policy decisions.

If we go back in time to 1996/97, the numbers swung towards the political
left, and the Labour Party. A law of donation figures seems to be that the
numbers always fall towards the opposition.

So while it is tempting to suggest the profession is placing its considerable
resources behind a David Cameron win, the truth is a little more complicated.

“KPMG is apolitical,” a spokesman said last week. “Since 2001, our support
through secondments for the main parties has been broadly equal.”

In 2009, however, the firm donated £189,000 in staff to the Conservatives,
more than double Labour’s £73,000 and the Liberal Democrats’ £65,000.
It’s a similar tale for PwC, Deloitte and Ernst & Young.

A cursory glance at Deloitte’s donations might leave the impression it
supports the Conservatives exclusively. However, sources close to the firm were
keen to point out Deloitte recently completed an as-yet-undeclared project for
the Labour Party and were in discussions with the Lib Dems on another project.

Of PwC’s £510,000 in donations during 2009, £184,000 went to Labour. The
Conservatives received £326,000.

The issue is so delicate, the firms abandon their fierce rivalries and band
together against the suggestion they take sides.

In a statement, PwC said it “does not make any cash donations to any
political party or other groups with a political agenda”.

Deloitte said its policy was, “not to give cash contributions to any
political party or other groups with a political agenda”.

PwC went on to say: “In the interests of our clients, we seek to develop and
maintain constructive and balanced relationships with the main political

Likewise, Deloitte said: “We do seek to develop and
maintain constructive and balanced relationships with the main representative
political parties”.

Whether coincidence or co-ordination, it’s clearly in the industry’s
interests to present a common message: the Big Four don’t take sides.
The firms say they offer their services to all the major parties. These offers
are made in a private, unstructured way, during conversations between
high-profile accounting figures and politicians, where someone suggests, in a
casual way, that a firm is willing to provide their services, free of charge.

These senior figures say their only aim is to support the body politic.
Ultimately, however, few will question the advantages that come with being a
phone call away from the men and women who hold the nation’s purse strings, or
their opponents waiting in line.


Further reading:

Related reading