UK Economic Crime & Corporate Transparency Bill: OpenCorporates provides expert input

Is the UK’s Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill up to scratch?

The bill, designed to strengthen the UK’s defences against financial crime and promote corporate transparency (including long-promised reform to Companies House), is currently making its way through the UK Parliament on its way towards becoming legislation.

A major provision in the Bill is a proposal to reform Companies House, which is the public register of UK company data, to introduce identity verification and provide powers to check or remove data on the register.

As part of the process, Chris Taggart, OpenCorporates’ Founder, attended the UK Parliament’s Public Bill Committee yesterday as an expert witness to address direct questions from MPs and help scrutinise the bill.

Chris spoke alongside other leaders in the field of transparency and anti-financial crime, including: the Royal United Services Institute and Transparency International.

We’re proud that OpenCorporates’ authority on how to promote corporate transparency through data, which has been built up over 12 years, is sought from governments around the world. After all, it’s part of our mission to advocate for the opening up of company data worldwide for the benefit of all.

Chris’s remarks in the committee session can be found here.

The Bill: “A horse & cart, whilst the criminals are driving fast cars”

We welcome the bill as a significant step forward.

Chris summarised the bill in its current form as “A huge improvement on where we are” and “an incredibly well-drafted bill”.

But he added that it’s “fundamentally coming from a different era” and that it’s like “a better horse and cart, whilst the criminals are driving around in fast cars”.

Chris cited the example of how information on shareholders will be collected by Companies House to show its limitations. Under the Bill, companies would be required to submit information on their shareholders themselves. 

He warned: “This is a particularly strong example of how it is essentially still the same problem – that Companies House is a historic record of information that is submitted by people. And the bad actors will always lie. We need to change things so that it’s much more difficult and risky for them to lie”.

Irrespective of the bill, Chris highlighted how some company registers claim to be publicly available, but in practice there are barriers to accessing or effectively leveraging their data. 

He told the committee that the UK’s data must be “functionally public”. “This means you can use it, reuse it and have it as data that you can combine with other datasets”, he said. 

“Having it as data allows you to do that programmatically so you can see trends. We need to get to it [the company register] being a statement of fact and an authoritative record.”

We’ll be closely following the bill as it goes through the UK Parliament. Further analysis coming soon.

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