Journalists, and their media organisations, should unite to fight the proposal to delete the public records of dissolved companies after just six years.
Under current policy, Companies House, the government agency that registers detailed information on British businesses, retains the records for 20 years.
This database is indispensable for journalists, police officers, lawyers, researchers and bank compliance officials. It provides access to every firm incorporated in the UK, listing all their directors and shareholders and showing the returns of their accounts.
But the agency is facing commercial and political pressure to erase valuable information, especially from the directors of failed businesses. Well they would, wouldn’t they?
According to a Companies House spokesman, the change of the rules “is being considered following a number of complaints made by members of the public who believe that retaining, and making publicly available, information relating to long-dissolved companies is inconsistent with data protection law.”
Members of the public? Can he be serious? Members of failed firms, more like. As for the data protection act, it should not be used as a cloak to prevent the public from accessing vital information, even if it happens to embarrass people connected to past business failures.
I agree with Chris Taggart, founder of the Opencorporates website, who believes it “essential” for people to know “who they are doing business with.” He says:
“While directors and owners enjoy protection from company debts under the law, the quid pro quo for that is transparency.”
Exactly so. What the public wants, and needs, is maximum transparency. Without the existence of that register how would we have known about the bankrupt past of BHS buyer Dominic Chappell?