Monday, 22 August 2016

Threat to critical Companies House data

The current Private Eye magazine has a worrying report in its In the City column. It seems that the management of the Gwent-based Companies House wants to purge records of companies which have been dissolved more than six years. Since the database is now computerised, it is hard to see what this move would save, apart from a few hundred pounds for disk storage. This would be lost many times over by victims of rogues who would gain anonymity by the move. The victims would include not only ordinary investors but also the exchequer.

As the Eye report states, the magazine has "often relied on the story told by Companies House records of long-dissolved comanies to dig out the truth." The writer lists such chancers as Dominic Chappell of BHS infamy, Craig Whyte (Glasgow Rangers), Brian Leigh, and Sam Gyimah, whose failed business ventures would all have vanished without trace under a six-year rule.

The article concludes: " What Companies House is proposing is not the right to be forgotten but the right to rewrite history for the benefit of those with something to hide - and where the public has a clear right to have that history remembered."

Mrs May has shown herself to be generally in favour of good company governance and of cracking down on tax avoidance. It is to be hoped that she will pass the message on to the BIS minister that nothing should be done to make it easier for con-men.

I would like the government to be more proactive, and pursue companies which break the law by, for instance, not filing returns on time or having clearly phony directors, both of which software is capable of detecting. However, not opening the six-year loophole would be a good start for a clean-hands May administration.

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