Search Result for is the incompetence — 103 articles

KPMG hit another low as this time they’re fined for cheating

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As the FT has reported:

KPMG [in the USA] has agreed to pay $50m to settle claims that it went back to alter audits it had already completed, after using stolen data from a watchdog that revealed they were about to be inspected.

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced on Monday it had charged the company with changing past audit work ahead of inspections by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.

The SEC also found that numerous KPMG audit professionals had cheated on internal training exams by sharing answers and manipulating test results.

Many of the recent audit scandals involving KPMG and other firms have been about incompetence and neglectfulness, no doubt driven by a profit motive. This, though, is quite different. This time KPMG have been fined for cheating.

How low can the accountancy profession go before we really do get reform?

Why Michael Gove’s plan to abolish VAT could be a tax increase and help imports

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The Tory leadership race really is starting to look like the silly season for policy ideas. Michael Gove’s suggestion that we get rid of VAT and replace it with a ‘simple sales tax’ is the latest such idea.

Value added tax is an idea embraced by more than 150 countries around the world. The only major exception is the USA. China has one. The USA doesn’t have a VAT because sales taxes are local in the USA and they just can’t get their heads around how to make VAT work as a result.

There is a reason why so many countries have VATs. They work. When there is a need for a broad and diversified tax base (and there is) then a tax on sales is always going to happen. They may be regressive, but that can be addressed, at least in part. And when this tax raises over £150 billion a year in the UK we are not getting rid of something like it.

Gove’s simple sales tax will, I suspect, be very different from VAT. VAT is complicated because it is always charged when required but most VAT registered traders can reclaim the VAT they are charged when paying over what they owe to HM Revenue & Customs. As a result VAT is not an expense for them. The tax only hits when it reaches a non-VAT registered person. That's a consumer - like you, or me. The merit of all this complexity is that VAT does not distort business decision making, much (and I know there are exceptions). And the VAT charge should be the same however many times goods change hands during the production process before reaching the consumer, and from wherever they come. Imports should carry VAT in full in most cases. The tax is at least neutral in this sense.

The problems implicit in Gove’s plan are fourfold. If his sales tax is ‘simple’ it will be charged on everything. So get ready to welcome sales tax on food then, for example. This tax is, then, much less likely to be fair then. In fact, we can be sure it will be more regressive: it will be paid in higher proportion by those on low income than high income.

Second, there is no guarantee of there being a tax reduction. A sales tax may be at a lower rate, say 5%, But it is charged right throughout the supply chain. Suppose goods change hands five times before reaching the end consumer. A 5% tax could actually increase end price by more than 27% in that case.  Prices matching current VAT are likely. Reductions may well be few and far between. I am not saying there will be none: I am simply saying there will be big winners and losers.

Third, there is the massive bias in favour of imports to consider. Suppose something is made in the UK. By the time everything is assembled, through several layers of supply chain, sales tax of maybe 20% might be included in the price. An almost identical product can, though, be bought from Europe, where they would have VAT still. There would be no VAT charge for the European exporter of that product and they would have just 5% sales tax to pay in the UK. So their product would be substantially cheaper than the UK made equivalent. This tax would then massively undermine UK business and favour imports.

And, fourth, it would also bias against exporters. That's because only the final exporter would not charge the sales tax. All the sales tax on the way through the production process would be a cost. UK exports would, then, be much higher than EU (and other country) equivalent domestically made products. So our exporters would not be able to compete because of Giove's sales tax.

As incompetence in tax design goes suggesting a sales tax takes some beating. But Gove has done it, with a guarantee to destroy British jobs built into the idea. Maybe he was high at the time he thought it worth suggesting. Those who are stone cold sober will not see anything of merit in what he is proposing.

The UK elections: sense is fighting back

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I tweeted at around midnight last night:

These are the stories tonight.

1. Scottish and Welsh nationalists are gaining.

2. The Brexit Party’s replaced UKIP.

3. Tories are being wiped out.

4. Labour is floundering.

5. Pro-Remain parties are flourishing, except Change UK.

6. The world has woken up to Greens.

This morning, having seen the main result then missing, and knowing pretty much what will happen in Scotland but acknowledging that it is not yet confirmed, my opinion still holds.

Stunning as the election result was last night it is, for once, not hard to interpret.

The Tories set out to deliver Brexit, which is not possible, at least in any of the ways that they tried. The result is that they have been treated as the failures that they are.

Labour have dithered, and the electorate have had more than enough of a party wholly unable to tell the truth about what it thinks, led by people who very clearly want something that its membership is opposed to. So people, including, I suspect, large numbers of its members, abandoned it last night. It is, quite simply, untrusted and I completely understand why.

In Wales and Scotland Labour’s loss was nationalists’ gain. And who can blame those making that choice?

Tory losses were by and large Brexit Party gains. There is little obvious sign Labour voters went that way, at all.

The LibDems and Greens both won heavily from Labour.

Change UK succeeded in losing LibDems a seat in the North East, which is annoying.

And let’s be honest about the Brexit Party: it did not sweep in from nowhere. Farage changed his colours and carried on taking Tory votes as before. There is really nothing more to say there.

It was an extraordinary night for everyone but the Brexit Party then, in whose case remarkably little happened and the vote share was not as big as forecast.

The Tories cannot recover from this in a general election. The disaffection is far too great for that. Those aspiring to lead them  reflect the utter incompetence the electorate have now sensed in them.

Labour had a dismal night. Again, the chance of doing well in a general election after this is very limited, unless the leadership cohort finally get off their Lexit fence and do what the membership and electorate wants, which is to see them opposing the government and Brexit.

And will the boost for the LibDems, Greens, SNP and Plaid last? Previous evidence suggests maybe not. But previous evidence is little guide in a situation like this. People will see the chance of really changing their MPs, even under first past the post now. That’s a thought that is very hard to put away again. I do think things may change radically as a result.

I also expect that the fact that a new prime minister will so obviously lack a mandate means that their chance of survival in office is very limited indeed. A general election to test all this is likely sooner rather than later.

And if so? What then?

First it would greatly help if Change UK departed the scene.

Second the LibDems, Geeens and nationalists may need to do some serious talking, but most especially the first two.

Third, if I was a Labour or Tory I would consider alternative employment prospects.

And fourth, by then the Brexit Party will have had to say something about policy, and that is never going to help it.

But, the good news is actually rather simple. This is much less depressing than I expected. As has also been seen across Europe, the fight against the populists and right is happening, and succeeding. And maybe, just maybe, we have a chance of sense breaking out after all. I am cheered.

Building on the wreckage of the UK

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I posted Jonathan Pie’s video this morning for a number of reasons.

His discussion of the failure of the social contract is good, and appropriate.

His discussion on tax is brief, but makes clear that effective redistribution is implicit in the consent to being taxed.I think that is right.

His anger is justified. This is not acting: I think this is conviction.

But most I did so because he introduced a term I had not heard before but which seems useful, which is UK scepticism. 

As Pie says (the role is an act, but I think a thinly disguised one), he was a Euro-sceptic Remainer. I know the feeling. But now he is a UK-sceptic. 

Brexit has revealed the incompetence of our politicians.

And it has shown in a literally cruel light the failings of neoliberal ideology, which this country did so much to promote.

It has revealed the callousness of austerity.

And quite reasonably that callousness has left people alienated. 

Meanwhile, on the left an inability to decide has left the term opposition bereft of meaning. 

Leadership is absent.

And so we end up with Farage, the ultimate bully who wants nothing to do with real responsibility.

Whatever the talents within the UK, and they are many, politically we have to accept now that the country has failed.

The Conservative Party may finally have ceased to be the most effective election fighting machine in democratic history. 

Labour has become so obsessed with triangulation it has forgotten that politics is actually about deciding, which it appears unable to do.

And the alternatives (barring Change UK, which deserves an early death, and UKIP, which is hopefully having it) have yet to breakthrough, excepting the SNP in Scotland and maybe the non-Unionists in Northern Ireland.

Those two countries provide evidence enough to be UK-sceptic. Their reasonable reaction to the UK’s failed politics is to leave. And they will.

But in the rump of the country that exists now and will when they have gone, what is there for it? 



More failed politics? After all, that is what Boris Johnson will supply.

And then? 

I can but hope it will be a revival with a new politics driven by a Green New Deal. That, and the desire to actually address the multitude of issues this country faces. 

But it is hope alone right now. But not wholly misplaced hope. Because, in amongst the despair I think that their is an understanding that the collapse of our politics was caused by politicians who believed that whatever they did they harmed the market. As a result they did, whenever possible, choose to walk away from problems and claim they were not theirs to deal with. So we had outsourcing. And privatisation. And austerity. And continual anti-government rhetoric from those within it, which has acted like a cancer in our body-politick. That fallacy, which I detailed in my book The Courageous State,  is what has led us to this dire state. And it is conviction that can take us out again. 

I stress though that the convictions of the past will not work. This is the weakness at the core of Labour’s position. That conviction fails to address the real issues of our era. Only forward looking conviction, based on a belief that we can maintain enduring life on earth, and that it is our duty to do so, can sustain a new politics of hope, because that is what will eventually drive people to a new common purpose. Nothing else will.

That can happen.

But there is hell to go through as yet before we get there. 

The BEIS committee, audit fees and a question of competence v systemic under-charging

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The Guardian reports this morning that:

The big four accounting firms are failing to charge some of the UK’s largest companies the full cost of inspecting their accounts, raising fresh concerns that the auditing industry is failing to scrutinise leading businesses properly.

The information has been released by the Commons business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) select committee, on the eve of the publication of its report into the “future of audit”, which was prompted by a wave of accounting scandals at stock market listed companies such as Carillion, Tesco and Patisserie Valerie.

The core of the argument is that:

On Monday, the BEIS select committee released correspondence with PWC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY, which showed evidence of how the full cost of auditing company accounts was not always charged to clients; information that appears to support industry critics who argue that accounting firms can use auditing as a “loss leader” to gain more lucrative work from clients.

The letters showed that half of audits in the last five years at Deloitte and PWC ended up costing more than 10% more than originally budgeted. EY said it had cost overruns on 32% of audits, while KPMG said it did additional work 16% of the time.

So, the suggestion is that there was under-quoting against full cost recovery.

Let me be clear: that happens in audit. I know. I have been an auditor. And not recovering full cost does not make an audit loss-making. It makes it less profitable use of time than hoped. It is, therefore, possible that this is innocent incompetence on a grand scale.

Or, as is implied, it is persistent under-quoting to secure work.

It has to be said that I think the committee has reached the right conclusion. If this was innocent either charge rates would have been altered, or bids revised. But they have not been. Assuming that these firms are competent (and I will do that) this implies persistent under-bidding instead. As many of us who have criticised auditors have for a long time suggested to be happening.

Surely we have a better story to tell

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There is a moment in every day when I have had enough of politics, tax, economics and all that goes with it. I take the dog for a walk. Talk to the family or a friend. Or pursue a hobby. None of that are done just to get away from work. But they all help me do so. I find it helps. Balance has to be an objective in life, and however great my passion for the topics I write about here they cannot be everything in my existence.

But Brexit keeps intruding now. The seemingly never ending machinations of incompetence that have lead to paralysis followed by an inability to decide how to progress invades too much of my time. And even with my capacity for politics I have had almost enough of it.

So I sat back and asked myself why.

The first is that I do want balance. And there is nothing at all balanced about Brexit. It was always dogmatic and hopelessly thought through. Then it was pursued as if the case for it was emphatic, when it never was. Alienation was built in from the start.

Second, it has highlighted the failing of every neoliberal politician who, when they see a problem run away from it, presuming the market always has a better solution than they can offer. Only in this case the solution has to be political and there is no politician left in many parties in the Commons with any comprehension as to how to deal with such an issue. Most have for so long given up political thought in favour of market acquiescence that their DNA as politicians has had the ability to decide removed from its structure.

Third, there is the possibility in all this that by our own collective action we acquiesced in this failure. In fact, somehow by not stopping it we facilitated it. And that is uncomfortable.

Fourth, there is just that feeling that it’s time for for pain to stop. Surely the ibuprofen should work soon? And yet it doesn’t.

In that case is this, like a hangover, our own self-inflicted wound that we must live with? I hope it is not. But what does that mean then?

Have we to join a political party to effect change? Has that worked for Labour? 

Or to stand for office (ample opportunity for that in the upcoming local elections)? I personally am not inclined to do so, but hope others will. 

Or is it time to simply start telling a better story as the basis for change? I get to this last point for a reason. It turned out to be the theme of a discussion I took part in with the journalist Oliver Bullough, author of Moneyland, at City, University of London, last evening. The talk was arranged by the English department and largely attended by students on the MA in non-fiction creative writing. 

Oliver and I discussed why we were storytellers. Because of course we are. Our characters are real. Our narratives are those we observe. We do not make them up. But the way we relate what we see is, of course, creative storytelling. I am unashamed about this. Story telling is powerful, appropriate and even necessary. If in doubt watch the video by New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern this morning. That is story telling to most powerful effect.

So what is the story that we need to tell?

That we are all one humanity, more bound by commonality than divided by any accident of birth?

That those accidents of birth are, however, part of our story and so must be respected?

That this respect enriches and does not diminish us?

That we stand or fall together now, on this our single planet that we call home?

And that we must work together to make it work for all is us? 

Isn’t that the story we must now tell, 8nto which we can weave all our preferences as to sub-plot, emphasis and character that we wish, so long as we remember our aim? I came away thinking so. 

And where does Brexit fit into that, as a narrative of alienation, promoted difference, indifference and contempt on so many levels (and yes I include Remain in some of the criticism; me too, if you like)? It does not fit with our humanity. It is not the story we need. And maybe the inability to decide upon it is because this really is not the story we want to tell, hear or partake in at some very deep level.

We know the EU is not perfect. 

We know it has had political failings.

As we have had, too.

But this was not the story to tell to find a solution to those problems. 

There is a better story to tell.

Mine is the Green New Deal in its broadest understanding, as a tale of survival, commonality, joint endeavour, enterprise, change, respect and hope.

Isn’t that a better narrative than the one we’ve got? 

Let’s hope that we can tear ourselves apart politically, economically and socially without a greater harm being unleashed

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I am in Copenhagen this morning, and was all yesterday. I am attending a meeting of the EU funded Horizon 2020 project that I have been working as part of for the last two years. It has been interesting to gauge the mood on Brexit, because it seems to me to have changed quite fundamentally over the last few months.

Until recently the mood was always bemusement as to why the UK wanted to leave the EU. Now that has moved. The mood is one of boredom with the issue. And there is even intolerance as a result of the UK’s utter inability to decide what it wants. The desire is to move on from the irritation and distraction that the UK is continually causing. And to also move on from the barrage of anti-EU sentiment that is directed at those from the other member states by those 

In the Leave movement who seem to have no idea about our inter-dependencies. 

The feeling is that if we are daft enough to have voted to leave, and have not had the wit to change that by now, then we deserve the consequences, and must live with them. And that they will now do too. They have suffered enough abuse. Us leaving is a price worth paying for recovery of their ability to work together in harmony again.

So where there was once tolerance and sympathy there is now only frustration.

Where there was once a desire to see us realise our error there is now little desire to find common ground: that commonality has been destroyed and the memory of so much disruption from the UK has come to the fore.

And when I suggested there might be revocation of Article 50 there was almost a horror expressed that this might simply perpetuate their suffering of UK membership when that could only mean they could not address the more fundamental questions to which we are now only a perpetual obstacle.

I was amongst friends last night. But their friendship for the UK has run out. We are simply a pain now. And they ere entirely sympathetic with their leaders only offering a short deadline extension to a UK prime minister who they revile because of her complete incompetence.

I was asked what I felt would happen now. It was agreed by all that the options were no deal, revocation, May’s Deal (about which there was bafflement as to the reasons for rejection) and, maybe, a long delay because the ‘red lines’ had been torn up. 

I suggested that there was little chance of agreement on alternative red lines now. I felt a long delay was off the table. Most Tories, at least, are not listening or looking for that.

I think May’s deal has no chance. Politically it satisfies no one now.

Revocation does have a chance. It now has the best alternative chance, in my opinion. But much as I would like to believe it I cannot see it happening. 

And that leaves no deal. I said a few weeks ago that I thought this had the highest chance. I would now rank that as high as 90%.

And if it happens it is the end for the UK. This will no longer be a United Kingdom.

There will instead be the demise of a once great nation that will sink to having the status of a minor state on the geographic periphery of Europe, isolated from all its neighbours, left struggling to survive and meet the demands of those who live within it whose expectations will be so sorely mismatched with the reality that they have created.

Whether it will be able to contain the resulting stresses is anyone’s guess. It’s not hard to imagine turmoil. 

And this is what we are letting May walk us towards because no one will apparently stop her.

And our Opposition appears to be as without a plan as to what to do as May is, a point noted by all I discussed this with, all of whom are astute political observers.

To describe my mood as sombre is to be kind to it.

I never thought I would live through a crisis like this, where the chance of dismemberment and failure of the country in which I have lived throughout my life has become so high that I can almost now sense the ball is rolling and has become unstoppable. And yet that is the way it is.

I will always live in hope.

But my hope has been reduced now to a desire that this national self destruction might at last be peaceful. That is because it cannot be successful against any known criteria. But let’s at least hope that we can tear ourselves apart politically, economically and socially without a greater harm being unleashed. That is a massive hope that it may be unreasonable to have. But that is as good as my hope now gets to be. 

The economic consequences of no deal

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I know I said I would not be blogging over the last few days, but that gave me time to think. I thought about the economic consequences of no deal on Brexit, which I am beginning to believe by far the most likely outcome, simply due to the sheer incompetence of the government and the inability of anyone to force a change upon them due to the disabling of parliamentary democracy by Cameron and Clegg.

No one, of course, has a crystal ball, but the consequences of no deal are not hard to imagine.

If we resort to WTO rules and the EU does impose tariffs, as they inevitably will, the price of goods exported from the UK will rise. The only way that they will remain competitive is by the value of the pound falling. We know that the pound has already fallen in anticipation of Brexit. No deal will, I suggest, mean it will fall somewhat further, where 'somewhat' means by a significant amount. I would expect at least another 10%, and maybe more.

It will not matter what the UK does on tariffs in that case: the price of imports will rise. That is inevitable. That does not mean that all prices will rise by the same amount: we do not, of course, import all we consume. But there will be a knock on effect. And it will be significant. But remember, we will notbget an export boost; the tariff will absorb that.

Of course, it can be argued that in the long term this might be good for us. As Nick Shaxson argues in his book 'The Finance Curse', we have long suffered from overvaluation of the pound as a result of the harmful activities of the City of London and this has had cost to us all. Adjustment to be more appropriate exchange rate levels may be overdue. But that does not mean it will be easy, especially if as unmanaged and chaotic, as this adjustment is going to be.

Chaos has a considerable price. I suggested some time ago that it will not be cost that will push businesses under in the case of no deal. A lack of liquidity will do that instead as supply chains lengthen, goods get stuck in transit and critical processes fail, including cash flow. I imagine substantial fall out from this. Given that 'no deal' will be punished by the EU this is inevitable. I simply cannot imagine them making life easy on a border. Why should they? In that case, expect a substantial number of businesses - including many in the transport sector, who will be hit especially hard as all their capital assets will simply sit still for long periods on behalf of customers who will not b able to pay for them to do so - to fail during the early summer of 2019. That is pretty much inevitable.

But that is only the direct impact of no-deal. There is, for example, the Bank of England reaction to consider as well. Falling exchange rates will give rise to a knee-jerk increase in the interest rate on their part in a hopeless and entirely misplaced attempt to support the value of the pound. Whatever Carney has said to date can be ignored: central bankers raise rates when currency values fall unless ordered to do otherwise. Philip Hammond has the power to over-rule such rises (there is no independence for the Bank of England in reality; it is all a sham, as I have previously explained) but will he? Given Tory loyalty to the City and Hammod's deep and innate desire to see ‘normal’ interest rates restored, which is a sentiment that runs deep through his party, I cannot see that happening.

The impact of these rate rises will be dramatic and quite rapid. Many households will be immune from the shock at first because of fixed-rate mortgages, but not all will enjoy that advantage. And most businesses will not. Rapidly rising interest costs at a time of inflation, resulting from rising import costs,  with the resulting likelihood of real incomes being in free-fall when personal debt levels are already very high and net saving has disappeared will be catastrophic. If border chaos does not create an insolvency crisis then increasing interest rates will.

Insolvency crises are personal, traumatic and always costly for society at large. But they also have systemic consequences, and that risk is transmitted through and to the banking system. The Bank of England says the UK banking system is now more robust than it was. I think there is some truth to that: it would be churlish not to agree. But banking faces its own shocks in the event of no deal. No one can be sure what the end of financial services passporting really means. And no one can be sure whether or not all derivatives will be legally enforceable when EU regulation ceases to apply. The scale of the shock to banking is already hard to assess in the case of no deal. We can be fairly sure that given the scale of the City’s enthusiasm for staying in the EU they think that the risk without the spillover from liquidity and interest rate induced crises is significant. Add an insolvency crisis into that mix and who knows what will happen? All that can be safely said is that the scale of the risk is real and significant.

And all this is before three other factors are taken into account. The first is the disruption to supply chains. The second is, then, contractual failure with consequent loss of profit claims. And the third is skill shortages as people, quite reasonably, refuse to come to the UK any more to take work. This also has a fourth, knock-on effect, which may be rising wage costs, although if businesses fail to the extent that I imagine it is actually possible that the exact reverse may happen, and there may be a spike in unemployment and no net wage increases.

Out all this together and there is only one possible consequence of no-deal and that is economic mayhem. I wish it were otherwise but unless the EU decided to impose no sanctions on the UK for leaving without a deal  (and I cannot see a legal way that they could do that) then nothing else is at all likely, especially as they will seek to maintain a border even of the UK is likely to be almost wholly unable to do so.

What to do in this situation? That's the subject for another blog. But nothing will really save the day.

It is time to replace the Financial Reporting Council’s self-interested myopia

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As the FT has noted:

Britain’s accounting watchdog will consider whether to ban firms from doing any consulting work for the companies they audit in an attempt to stamp out conflicts of interest in the scandal-ridden sector. The Financial Reporting Council said on Monday it would assess whether new action was needed to prevent the independence of auditors being compromised, “including whether all consulting work for bodies they audit should be banned”.

Like others who have campaigned on the issue of audit reform, I was amused by the sheer, brazen incompetence of this announcement.

Firstly, the FRC is trying to make claim for its survival by saying it will look at the issues being complained about. It is not saying it will actually do anything.

Second, the announcement made entirely misses the cause for concern. The problem is not just that Big 4 audit firms are doing consulting work for their own audit clients, although that, of course, is a matter of concern. Instead the problem is that any audit firm in this market is doing consulting work at all, which work then cuts down or even eliminates audit choice for a company seeking to change auditor to the point where conflicts of interest even prevent such change being possible. This is market failure and the dying FRC cannot spot it from a mile off.

In that case there is but one thing to do, and that is recognise that the FRC is well past its usefulness. It is time to replace it and its self-interested myopia with a new regulator, fit for purpose and structured to deliver the public interest.