Britain’s big four accountancy firms have been savaged by MPs who have accused them of “feasting on the carcass” of collapsed construction giant Carillion and collecting more than £70 million in the process.
MPs from the business and pensions committees, who are conducting a joint inquiry into Carillion’s demise, have published a breakdown of fees collected by KPMG, PwC, Deloitte and EY.
It shows that the professional services firms have pocketed a total of £71.6 million in Carillion-related work since 2008, including on its pension schemes.
Veteran Labour MP Frank Field, head of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “The image of these companies feasting on what was soon to become a carcass will not be lost on decent citizens.
“The former directors of Carillion are, unlike their pensioners, suppliers and employees, alright.
“These figures show that, as ever, the Big Four are alright too. All of them did extensive – and expensive – work for Carillion.”
PwC, which is handling the liquidation process, comes in for particular criticism, with Mr Field accusing the bean counter of playing “all three sides”.
He said: “PwC managed to play all three sides – the company, pension schemes and the Government – to the tune of £21 million and are now being paid to preside over the carcass of the company as Special Managers.
“It was perhaps telling that, with their three fellow oligarchs conflicted, PwC were appointed to this lucrative position without any competition.”
According to information published by the committees, KPMG has banked £20.2 million in fees since 2008, PwC £21.1 million, Deloitte £12 million and EY £18.3 million.
Carillion’s liquidation last month left in its wake a £900 million debt pile, a £590 million pension deficit, and hundreds of millions of pounds in unfinished public contracts.
A total of 989 jobs have been lost since, with 6,668 saved out of the previous directly-employed workforce of 18,000.
The role of auditors has come under the spotlight, with questions asked about why problems at the firm were not spotted sooner.
The accountancy watchdog has gone as far as to open an investigation into KPMG over its audits of Carillion under the Audit Enforcement Procedure.
The probe will cover the years ended 2014, 2015 and 2016, and additional audit work carried out during 2017.
Business committee head Rachel Reeves MP, who co-chairs the inquiry, said: “KPMG has serious questions to answer about the collapse of Carillion.
“Either KPMG failed to spot the warning signs, or its judgment was clouded by its cosy relationship with the company and the multimillion-pound fees it received.
“For the sake of all those who lost their jobs at Carillion and in the interests of better corporate governance, KPMG should, as a bare minimum, review its processes and explain what went wrong.”
For its part, KPMG chairman Bill Michael wrote a lengthy riposte to the MPs’ claims.
In an 18-page letter, he said the audit work KPMG carried out was “appropriate and responsible”, but admitted that lessons must be learned from Carillion’s collapse.
Representatives from KPMG will appear before MPs next week to answer questions over its role.
A KPMG spokeswoman added: “We are committed to building public trust in audit.
“We take the questions that have been asked of our profession in recent weeks very seriously and we welcome the opportunity to appear before the joint committee on February 22 and assist the inquiry with their investigations.”
A PwC spokesman said: “It’s appropriate that the Joint Committee consider all aspects of the collapse of Carillion and we will continue to cooperate fully with their enquiries.
“The Joint Committee’s request for information dates back to 2008 and the majority of the work that PwC undertook directly for Carillion was carried out prior to June 2015 rather than in the last few months before its collapse. Our technical skills and ability to deal with complex business problems led to our appointments to work for the Government and the Pension trustees.
“While there are only four large professional services firms, the market has been subject to extensive review by the Competition Commission (now succeeded by the Competition & Markets Authority) and European Commission. We comply with all rules that have resulted from these extensive reviews.”
Last week former Carillion executives were branded “delusional” and accused of playing the blame game by the MPs, as a damning report revealed how company bosses presided over a string of failures that led to its collapse.