PracticeAccounting FirmsBig Four an easy target

Big Four an easy target

You may recall the row over double tax relief that raged in the spring of 2000. It got so nasty that Gordon Brown used an appearance on Breakfast with Frost to attack Peter Wyman over the PricewaterhouseCoopers partner's claims that the Inland Revenue had massively underestimated the true cost to business of the changes.

Wyman’s views, the chancellor said, should be taken with a ‘pinch of salt’ because the tax expert had once been an adviser to the disgraced Tory MP Neil Hamilton when he was a minister at the DTI.

With that, a disagreement turned into a personal attack. Brown should have known better than to shoot the messenger, rather than his message.

There are parallels with the position in which John Whiting finds himself today. Whiting and PwC stand accused of lacking independence when they undertook an independent review of Jersey’s tax affairs. An island politician is leading the campaign against him and again it has got pretty personal.

In some ways this is how it should be. Accountants pass judgements and their judgements should be open to scrutiny. Whiting is no different than any other accountant in having to answer for his judgements. However, for Whiting, the attacks are again uncomfortably personal. It’s easy to see why: Whiting has a higher profile than most, and he represents something a lot of people resent – a Big Four firm.

Though it might take a little time, this row will blow over. However, others should brace themselves for an uncomfortable spell in the limelight, because these types of slanging matches will only become more common.

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