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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 November 2007, 11:27 GMT
Private equity plan to open books
Private equity says it contributes significantly to the economy
The UK private equity industry, under increasing scrutiny from government and unions, is to require its members to disclose more details of investments.

The sector has been accused of secrecy and of asset-stripping troubled firms.

A review commissioned by the private equity industry recommends that firms should disclose details of employees, debt, risk and management approach.

However, the report does not recommend that firms disclose the pay of their executives or the fees they collect.

The British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (BVCA) commissioned a review of the industry by Morgan Stanley's ex-boss Sir David Walker.

If the aim is to keep the barbarians from the gates, they have failed
John McFall MP, Treasury Select Committee chairman

The BVCA has also set up a body to ensure that its members adhere to the plans, to be headed by Mike Rake, chairman of BT.

"My hope and expectation is that implementation of these guidelines and recommendations will mitigate many of the specific concerns about large-scale buyout activity that have emerged in the recent past," Mr Walker said.

Code 'inadequate'

While recent problems in the credit markets have made deals harder, the private equity industry has boomed in the UK.

Among the high-profile private equity takeovers in recent years have been the acquisition of High Street chemists Alliance Boots and the AA automobile rescue service.

However, the report failed to satisfy the critics of private equity.

John McFall MP, the chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, said that the voluntary code of conduct was "inadequate".

"If the aim is to keep the barbarians from the gates, they have failed."

And union leaders said it would be "madness" for the government to allow the industry to regulate itself.

"These are the people who brought us the Northern Rock fiasco and their reckless and headless pursuit of multi-million bonuses could spill over into a recession," said GMB general secretary Paul Kenny.

"It is madness even to contemplate allowing them to volunteer what they will tell the public."

But the CBI employers' organisation said that the proposals for greater disclosure should help to build up public confidence in the sector and dispel the "often inaccurate and politically-motivated criticism" of private equity firms.

Under scrutiny

Earlier in the summer, members of the industry faced tough questioning from the Treasury Select Committee, when it looked into whether private equity firms needed stricter regulation and whether they should pay more tax.

While unions have long-criticised the industry, saying they cut jobs and seek only short-term financial gains, others argue that private equity firms inject much-needed capital and management expertise into under-performing companies.

The unions cite the case of the AA, which they say cut jobs and increased workloads after it was acquired by Permira, as an example of the dangers of such buy-outs.

But proponents say private equity contributes significantly to the UK economy and stricter rules will put UK private equity firms at a disadvantage compared to US firms.

Research by Robert Cressy at the Birmingham Business School suggests that private equity firms typically cuts jobs by 25% in the first four years, but later start to recruit again if the takeover has been successful.

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