PracticeConsultingSmall companies may yet suffer

Small companies may yet suffer

When, last April, Stephen Byers announced 150,000 small businesses would 'escape from the burden of the statutory audit' as a result of the government's decision to increase to £1m the then £350,000 turnover threshold, anti-red tape campaigners welcomed an important victory in the ceaseless battle against bureaucracy.

But after the developments of the last week, that claim is starting to ring hollow.

First the ICAEW council decided to withdraw its support for the independent professional review, the checking mechanism designed to replace the audit for small businesses.

And while ACCA promised it would not embark on a similar ‘knee-jerk’ form of action, it could withdraw its own support at some point. It is no great fan of the IPR – it sees the review as the best of a bad lot.

Similarly ICAS described the ICAEW’s decision to withdraw support ahead of Auditing Practices Board field tests of the IPR as ‘premature’.

Soon banks were muttering they might require audits of some of their larger SME clients once the audit threshold rises to #4.8m. A turnover as low as #2m could be the trigger, one bank confirmed this week.

The upshot of all this could be disastrous. A small company that thinks it has been spared the statutory audit could find itself required to provide an audited set of accounts, required by the government to provide an IPR and required by customers to provide another form of assurance. A victory for red-tape cutters? Hardly.

All parties – banks, the DTI and accountants – must address the confusion with some urgency. The current situation cannot be allowed to stand.

Confusion and weakness of controls will only result in a backlash of new rules and regulations, precisely the situation everyone is trying to end.

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