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Competition body slams audit firms

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MARION DAKERS

THE COMPETITION Commission will this morning find that the Big Four accountancy firms have too much control over the industry, and call for measures to encourage Britain’s largest companies to change auditor regularly to boost competition.

In its long-awaited provisional report, the commission is expected to find no evidence of collusion, but will raise concerns that PwC, KPMG, Deloitte and Ernst & Young have an unfair grip on the books of big UK companies.

Many blue-chip firms have “Big Four-only” rules in place, and the commission is set to propose a ban on such measures, according to Sky News.

But it is expected to be less forthright about imposing mandatory rotation, in a move likely to upset mid-sized accountancy firms attempting to crack the FTSE audit market.

The Competition Commission will also urge investors to become more vocal about a firm’s choice of auditor.

All but a handful of the FTSE 100 use one of the Big Four to audit their accounts, and a firm will keep their auditor for an average of 48 years, according to a House of Lords report in 2011.

At least four blue-chip companies are believed to have put their audit contract out to tender in 2012, but only two – asset manager Schroders and oil explorer BG Group – decided to switch. Both continue to use the Big Four.

The Competition Commission declined to comment last night.

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Starlight Suite

Osborne faces ?10bn hole in the UK public finances

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BEN SOUTHWOOD

CHANCELLOR?George Osborne is set to run a budget deficit ?10bn or more larger than the ?119.9bn predicted by the budget watchdog during the 2012-13 fiscal year, economists said yesterday.

January’s public borrowing figures, released yesterday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), looked positive on the surface, analysts said, with a larger-than-expected surplus of ?11.4bn, ?5bn better than last year.

But analysts said this figure was flattered by seasonal strength in tax revenues and one-off transfers from the bank fund, known as the Asset Purchase Facility (APF), that carries out quantitative easing (QE)?by buying gilts.

“Excluding all the one-off transfers that muddy the waters, borrowing was ?7.5bn higher in the first 10 months of the current fiscal year than in the previous fiscal year,”?said chief Berenberg Bank economist Robert Wood.

Since the 4G auction brought in ?1.2bn less than built into the budget numbers, the budget could be ?10bn worse than predicted by the OBR?in the Autumn Statement, Wood forecast, echoing other economists’ numbers.

“Osborne is very unlikely to be able to say the deficit is falling in his 20 March budget unless he can find some other ways of massaging the figures,” Wood warned.

But the Treasury tried to shift focus onto spending, which was down ?2bn compared to the same month a year earlier, and receipts, which were up, even excluding one-off moves, it said.

Economists also criticised the Treasury for the level of “unnecessary complexity” in the finances.

“All of the messing around with numbers makes it very difficult to see the direction we’re going in,” Item’s Andrew Goodwin said.

Goodwin said all the different ways official bodies state the deficit and borrowing numbers can confuse even economic experts.

And the ONS decision yesterday morning to allow only ?9.1bn of intra-government transfers into the official borrowing numbers over the tax year confused matters further. Since ?2.7bn of this was already taken up by previous transfers, even on the government’s figures, which include one-off QE transfers, it will only be able to include ?6.4bn out of an expected ?11.5bn in its borrowing numbers.

BUDGET DEFICIT: WHAT IS GOING ON?

Q and A

Q Is borrowing going down – as George Osborne said he thought it would in the Autumn Statement – or is it rising?

A So far, 10 months into the 2012-13 fiscal year, borrowing was ?65.8bn – ?26.5bn lower than during the same period in 2011-12. But this includes some one-off windfalls. Excluding the transfer of the Royal Mail pension plan, and the Treasury’s raid on quantitative easing (QE) income, borrowing was ?97.6bn, and therefore ?5.3bn up on 2011-12. Further excluding the ?2.3bn money gained from winding down the Special Liquidity Scheme, it was ?7.5bn higher.

Q So will Osborne officially miss the Office for Budget Responsibility’s (OBR) target?

A The OBR forecast borrowing would be ?119.9bn over the year. Economists are now forecasting Osborne will overshoot the target by ?10bn-?15bn. That is due to higher borrowing and also because the OBR assumed ?11.5bn gained from raiding the Bank of England’s QE?income. Actually this can only bring in a maximum of ?6.4bn, as the target is for public sector net borrowing, which was yesterday defined to not include all the QE income. The OBR also assumed a ?3.5bn gain from this week’s 4G auction (it brought in ?2.3bn).

     
     
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ADDRESS: Enfield Football Club Southbury Rd

CITY: Enfield

COUNTY: London

POST CODE: EN1 1YQ

TELEPHONE NUMBER: 0208292 0665

CATEGORY: Conference Rooms and Centres

 

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Miles: Print ?175bn more

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TIM WALLACE

BANK?of?England policymaker David?Miles yesterday called for at least an additional ?175bn of quantitative easing (QE), arguing it is the best way to help boost the economy.

Miles believes there is a large output gap in the UK currently which could be reduced by printing more money, boosting demand and encouraging firms to invest more, increasing output capacity in the longer term.

Sir Mervyn King and Paul Fisher joined Miles in voting for another ?25bn QE this month, a change from his recent lone call for more easing.

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