Assurance of corporate stand-alone reporting : evidence from the UK
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Since the early 1990’s the number of corporate stand-alone reports produced by various organisations worldwide has increased considerably (Kolk, 2004; Owen, 2006). It is argued that introducing an assurance statement with the stand-alone report may contribute to enhancing the credibility of the reported information (FEE, 2002; Dando and Swift, 2003; ACCA and AccountAbility, 2004). This thesis reports on a multi-level analysis of assurance statements attached to stand-alone reports that were produced by the UK FTSE100 companies during the reporting years 2000-2004. Drawing on a research instrument (which itself has been informed by previous literature, namely O’Dwyer and Owen, 2005) as well as the most recent assurance guidelines and standards (such as FEE, 2002; GRI, 2002, AA1000AS, 2003; and ISAE3000, 2004), this thesis examines the extent to which assurance statements disclose information about crucial elements of the assurance engagement, the amount of disclosure as well as factors associated with the information disclosed. In this context, particular attention is given to issues of independence of the assurance provider; the methodology used to conduct the assurance engagement; the degree to which stakeholders have been engaged and their issues taken account of within the assurance process; and assurance results (namely presentation of the assurance opinion, findings and recommendations). The research results suggest that, despite the increased amount and quality of information disclosed within the assurance statements over the years, engagement of stakeholders and taking adequate account of their issues within the assurance process is still lacking compared to other dimensions of assurance. In the absence of generally accepted stand-alone reporting criteria and assurance standards for this type of reporting, various assurance approaches have emerged and these correspond to the nature of the assurance provider (for example, accountancy, consultancy and certification body). The FTSE100 companies (in almost in two-thirds of the conducted engagements) rely most heavily on consultancy firms for assurance and as a result, this approach dominates UK assurance practice. As a consequence, there are noticeable variations in the assurance methodologies, results of the assurance engagements (findings, opinions and recommendations) and shape of the assurance statements over the study. There are also changes that emerge over time and these are most strongly associated with the standards that are used to govern the assurance engagement and also the type of information being assured. These findings raise concerns about whether it is possible to harmonise assurance practice of the corporate stand-alone reports. This thesis concludes with some practical implications for the assurance of stand-alone reports, as well as recommendations for future research.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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