Tuesday 16 January 2018

Carillion - some layman's questions.

I am neither an accountant nor a lawyer - just a jobbing teacher of economics - so these questions may appear naive, but I haven't as yet seen them answered adequately in the media reports so far.

1.  What is the involvement of the accountancy firms (KPMG in this case I believe)   Somebody presumably audited the annual accounts and should have been able to give ample warning that the conglomerate  was heading for insolvency if it continued to trade in its current fashion.

2.  Why is the ousted chief executive to continue to receive his £660 000 annual salary  until  the autumn of this year?  Surely if Carillon is unable to pay what it owes to its myriads of sub-contractors it shouldn't be allowed to continue lashing out vast sums to a failed executive?

3.  Carillion paid a dividend to its shareholders quite recently*  How much would this be in total?  I suppose that there's no chance of "clawing back" this money, but should not the Directors who authorised the dividend be arraigned for criminal negligence, or for deliberately deceiving the public?  "Somebody ought to be summonsed," as "was decided upon"  in Albert and the Lion. (Stanza 15)

4. What's the role of the Competition and Markets Authority (successor to the Competition Commission, in turn successor to the  Monopolies and Mergers Commission) in all of this?  Why have multi-tasking conglomerates, not just Carillion, but also G4s, Serco, etc been allowed to expand their range of activities so that the choice for  issuing public service contracts becomes severely limited and the firms themselves effectively become "too big to fail."

5.  How can it be that the pension fund has a deficit of half a billion pounds or more?  Surely funds put into pension funds are, or should be, ring-fenced so that unscrupulous takers-over cannot get their hands on them. Abuse of this nature goes back at least to the 1980s and the affair of Robert Maxwell and the Mirror Group Pension Fund. There's been ample time to sort it out..

In addition to  these questions I willingly subscribe to the bewilderment  expressed in parliament and elsewhere as to way the government continued to award  contracts to Carillion after three public  profit-warnings indicted that the company was in trouble;  to question why such conglomerates continue to be given contracts after spectacular failures (G4s on security for the Olympics, Virgin on the East Coast railway, to name but two); what companies such as Carillion are supposed to know abut managing schools, hospital beds and operating theatres, providing school and hospital meals,as well as their core function of building and construction?

And why the profit-maximising private sector should be involved at all in personal services such as prisons, care of the elderly and public medical care
And above all, why the powers that be, in spite of all the evidence, continue to assume that the private sector is more efficient (however defined) than the public sector.  Not to mention the contribution that could be made by mutuals, co-operatives and not-for-profit organisations.

Post script (added  17th January) 

*There's some information on this in today's Guardian.  Recent dividends to shareholders have amounted to £80m (2015); £82.7m (2016) and £83m (2017)  Not all together enough to plug the hole in the pension fund, now estimated to be £580m, but would reduce it by getting on for a half.

To this could be added the bonuses which the directors awarded themselves..  I haven't yet seen a figure for this: just that the directors altered the company's rules so that the bonuses could not be clawed back  as a result of financial failure.

In my upbringing such behaviour would be imagined only in so-called Banana Republics.  It is shameful that it now seems to pass for normal behaviour among businessmen here.


  1. Accountancy firms general don't like to undertake too rigorous an audit of major clients, otherwise they might endanger their very lucrative consultancy contracts with the company. Alternatively, if you're Bernie Madoff, you can find a tiny accountancy firm (one accountant, one secretary) and get them to sign off on your accounts.

  2. I'm sure you're right. I believe we're now reduced to a "big four" who failed to blow the whistle on some of the banks responsible for the 2007/8 crash. The one that affected me, because I bank with he Co-op Bank and am a supporter of the movements, is the accountancy firm (I can't now remember which) which said that the Britannia Building Society was in good enough health for the Co-op Bank to take it over. Now the Bank is Co-op in name only