Examination of Witness

Part of Financial Services Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:22 pm on 19th November 2020.

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Duncan Hames:

I think we would see the creation of OPBAS as a very helpful staging post in addressing this problem of inadequate supervision, albeit that it can address and challenge only the professional body supervisors. HMRC has been found wanting, and I have already criticised the level of its fines. OPBAS cannot do anything about HMRC, and I think we have been party to discussions about that in other proceedings of the House.

What OPBAS has found is pretty devastating. In its 2018 report, 62% of accountancy supervisors had some overlap between their advocacy and regulatory functions. Those represent a conflict of interest. There are some really choice quotes from OPBAS in that report, about what supervisors said about the impact on their membership income, were they to take more assertive enforcement action. That really is a conflict of interest in these supervisory bodies.

I think what we need, Minister, is for you or your colleagues to have the ability to respond to these reports—I think we have now had two annual reports from OPBAS—and, where necessary, to strip the supervisory duties from bodies that are failing in this regard. Obviously, all bodies should address their own conflicts of interest, but performance is a really important issue.

The report I was referring to earlier was HMRC finding that about half of the businesses it had reviewed were non-compliant with its anti-money laundering regulations. So, the changes that have been made recently to the regulatory landscape, in and of themselves, are not enough to address the holes in our money laundering defences that are overseen by this very fragmented regulatory arrangement. I said there were more than 14 accountancy sector supervisors; I think we are at 25 anti-money laundering supervisors, altogether.