Partners going public.

No big deal, I hear you say, why shouldn’t Robson Rhodes do that? Well, the point is that it’s not really about the firm, but about the principle of going public with the accounts.

When trade secretary Patricia Hewitt stood up in the House of Commons three weeks ago to announce her tidy up of audit and accountancy regulation she made it clear that she wanted to see auditors with publicly listed clients go public with their own results.

Listed companies go public with their numbers because they have investors who need access to the gory details.

Partnerships were once thought to be different.

They were owned by their partners so why should they tell the rest of the world – especially their clients – about all that lovely lolly that was rolling in?

But then along came Lord Sharman and KPMG.

Having become senior partner at the firm, Sharman soon realised that some sort of radical change was needed. If investors were to be reassured about the integrity of auditors, then auditors should practice what they preach and let the world in on their earnings.

But Hewitt wants to speed things up a bit.

She wants all auditors to make the changes voluntarily or she’ll wave the stick of legislation at them.

Of course, what she didn’t mention is that most firms are seriously looking at taking up limited liability partnership status which brings with it the obligation to publish annual report and accounts anyway.

Which brings us back to Robson Rhodes.

The firm is in the process of becoming an LLP and so published the accounts as a precursor to this.

We can expect more of this from other firms.

Hewitt may want the corporate world to think she’s wielding a big stick to bring firms into line with best practice but, in reality, LLP status, and the protection it offers partners, is the real attraction.

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