Have you ever had this? I am not talking about the Christmas or the hospital basket. No, I am talking about those ‘greeting’ baskets you get. One of these: ‘welcome new member’ baskets. You accept them with a smile, whilst you know you are getting a bag full of goodies that have value that is close to zero. Now we get these baskets from book clubs and other longer term commitment places, none of this is a big mystery to many people, because at some point, we all get confronted with this basket. Now, let’s change the game a little, now we consider the same basket, but in this case we don’t look at some two bit online retail vendor, now we look at Price Waterhouse Coopers.
That part is seen in the Guardian as per today. Let me refresh you on some of the facts, for that I will take you back to my blog from October 25th 2014 called ‘Price Waterfall Blooper‘. In there I wrote the following “Consider that PwC had (a reported by the Guardian in an earlier blog) last year; PwC was paid £10.4m by Tesco for its auditing services and a further £3.6m for other consultancy work (a newer version at http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/23/guardian-view-tesco-auditing-debacle-pwc-systemic-shambles)“. Now when we add today’s information, information I quite honestly never considered: “The Groceries Code Adjudicator, Christine Tacon, announced the move, saying she had formed a “reasonable suspicion” that the retailer has breached the Groceries Supply Code of Practice“. Now, let’s take a quick look at this so called ‘code of practice’. First of all, the information is found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/groceries-supply-code-of-practice. The fact that this is on a dot Gov dot UK site should indicate that this is the serious stuff. So this code of conduct states at 4.1 PART 4—PRICES AND PAYMENTS, the following: 5. No delay in Payments and at 9. We see Limited circumstances for Payments as a condition of being a Supplier. This is just two of a long list of a code of conduct. The reason to mention these two is the question that follows. ‘How come the auditor was not aware of these facts?’. These are not just simple facts, they are codes of conduct, and can someone please explain to me how this is not raised by the firm charging close to 14 million pounds for one year of work? There are two other parties who are about to see the limelight. Party one is the Press. You see, I was following part of this since last year October, yet, I do not remember seeing the press being awake on these facts. I have a decent excuse living on the other side of the planet and the fact that these elements are not part of my Master of Intellectual Property education, yet the press, Pricewaterhouse Coopers as well as whatever legal aid is out there in UK farmland, it seems to me that too many people were not paying attention at all. There is actually a third side to this. I missed it initially, but when you look at the Guardian on October 23rd (at http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/oct/23/tesco-black-day-profits-down-92), we see the following: “Tesco claimed that the rogue accounting practices – which relate to how the supermarket banks payments from suppliers – dated back at least two years“. Now consider again the government side that states ‘Guidance Groceries Supply Code of Practice, Published 4 August 2009’, so the statement and the fact that there was a code of conduct out for half a decade, did no one consider that there were additional issues that might rise?
Who on earth is running PwC in London? More important, what on earth is mentoring these wannabe’s? I have good right to speak in this manner. This took me 5 minutes to figure out when I got wind of this small fact, the fact that PwC, the Press and others were not all over this from day one is a little too weird for words. Consider the people that quickly left Tesco when the water got slightly too uncomfortable. Should they have known? I’ll let you answer this question for yourself, but now also consider that the auditors did not make mention in reports on some of these parts, they DEFINITELY should have known about the codes of conduct for the simple reason that part of this is linked to the pesky rules regarding payments and so on. What else did these people miss? More important, consider the date I mentioned (October 23rd), now consider the Deloitte report, was this part in that report? If not, consider that they had to check on these ‘miscalculations’, as we see the mention ‘rogue accounting practices‘ and ‘payments from suppliers‘, did no one consider looking under rock number two? Granted that Deloitte did not get much time, but as we see that suppliers were part of the mix, did no one mention the question ‘What about the Groceries Supply Code of Practice? Do we need to consider any issues there?‘ Did that question seriously not come up?
Now consider my blog from October 13th called ‘A matter of Jurisprudence‘, there I wrote the following “company secretary Jonathan Lloyd, who advises the board on legal and governance issues, had resigned and was serving out his notice until March 2015”, the second one “Ken Hanna, chairman of Tesco’s audit committee, is also set to step aside as a non-executive director as the company’s chairman reshuffles his management team”, which was shown from several sources. Now consider the fact that we see Jonathan on legal issues and Ken as part of the audit committee, they should have known about the ‘Groceries Supply Code of Practice’, which now gives an entirely different light into their departures. So was PwC completely in the dark about this? If the answer is yes, then my next question should be ‘why are they allowed to be auditors?’ Is that such a weird question to ask? It is a code of practice, not a fraternity paper on how to score, so I reckon, especially as it has financial sides, the auditors should have taken a look, moreover, Deloitte should (they might) have reported on this. The fact that the press is only now revealing these events calls for additional questions, but their fumbling is not part of this article, the fumbling of accountancy firms a lot more, for the mere reason that the code states at 5. “A Retailer must pay a Supplier for Groceries delivered to that Retailer’s specification in accordance with the relevant Supply Agreement, and, in any case, within a reasonable time after the date of the Supplier’s invoice“, which should have been part of the financial checks, can we all agree on that part?
And as we take a better look at this basket (have you figured it out yet), we see that the players were in a lot deeper than initially suggested. This cesto, has harboured information, misinformation and above all else, a lack of illumination of the facts as is. First there is Tesco themselves, the latest information shines a harsh light on several members who have vacated their office, in addition there is the case I made on October 13th in my blog ‘A matter of Jurisprudence‘, where I mentioned one person (Rebecca Shelley) who would have been at the centre. The mention on the Birchwood Knight site was “As part of her corporate affairs role, Rebecca will be responsible for government and media relations, investor relations, internal communications and corporate social responsibility“. Rebecca’s job hits ‘government relations’ and ‘social responsibility’. How come that this ‘Groceries Supply Code of Practice’ remained so below the radar?
So when we see months of reporting and we see the lack of mention of this so called ‘code of practice’ we also see the mention in today’s article “Business secretary Vince Cable said: “This is an historic day for the groceries code adjudicator and shows we have created a regulator that has real teeth“. Who is this Vince Cable catering for? You see, if this statement had been given before December 1st 2014, then there might have been a case, at present the act of mentioning it months after going live is just another presentation of a sad story on how some people could be seen by many others as some parties remaining silent hoping to make a bundle down the track.
So I reckon that Tesco will have to sweat the small stuff for some time to come, however, the more we get to see at present, the less clean the image of PwC seems to be. In the case of PwC it will become a case that is worrying on several levels. Not only are the looking for hardship over what was done, as per now it seems that PwC will be scrutinised for the things they did not do, not properly oversee or missed altogether, as per today it sucks to be the senior account holder of the Tesco account, because the fallout will continue for a decently long time to come.
So as we see the basket (also known as a cesto) filled with the trash of information, wrongful acts and none acts, can we all agree that we got a whole lot of nothing, an act that will have severe repercussions and not just legal ones! Does anyone remember this Warren Buffett fellow and how he lost 2 billion in value? If we combine what we have seen so far and add the part that I discussed in October regarding the Chadbourne papers, I can repeat that quote: “that directors of companies must make certain disclosure statements in the directors’ reports. This applies not only to information which the officer actually knew of but also information he would have known about if he had conducted a reasonable enquiry. However, the provision goes further and requires the director to confirm that, so far as the director is aware, there is no relevant audit information of which the company’s auditors are unaware”. This now brings an entirely different light to the Groceries Supply Code of Practice, moreover, it could be suggested that Warren Buffett now has a clear case in legally reclaiming his losses, consider that the US has the Sarbanes–Oxley Act, after Enron, which took care of the power players real fast. The UK has the Corporate Governance Code. I reckon that it is not too far-fetched that Mr Warren Buffett could be offered a deal for his lost two billion. If so Warren, remember this poor blogger and I feel so much better getting to work in a new Jaguar XK, in British racing green of course.