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Companies Act timetable published

Steady as she goes

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The Government is acting more slowly than expected in implementing the Companies Act, the piece of legislation that is completely overhauling the way companies are governed.

Only a few parts of the Act are currently in force, and the remaining elements have been scheduled to become law in three stages between now and October 2008.

"I think there was an expectation that they were going to rush things through, all the good news deregulatory stuff so that they could say 'look how much we are doing for you guys'," said Martin Webster, a corporate partner at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW. "It is clear that that's not what has happened, though. A lot has been held back."

"I think they came up against a number of difficulties with the transitional processes in the change between old and new systems and they are so nervous about getting things wrong because they've got a couple of things wrong in the past and the finger has been pointed, that they are doing a lot of consulting."

This October will see the implementation of clauses relating to directors' rights and duties and clauses increasing the rights of indirect investors. More complicated laws governing conflict of interest and company constitutions will be left to October 2008.

"Throughout its passage the Government consulted and listened carefully to a range of views. We have maintained this approach for the commencement timetable," Industry and Regions Minister Margaret Hodge said. "We have been guided by a desire to see the benefits for business introduced as quickly as possible and observing common commencement dates.

"We have had further extensive discussions with a wide range of interested parties to make sure we have a timetable that gives business certainty, time to prepare and, wherever possible, early savings and administrative benefits," she said.

There are practical difficulties which have meant that some elements of the Act are delayed by longer than would be expected. "There are changes like the change that means directors' home addresses will not go on to accounts that you would think could be done tomorrow but they aren't," said Webster. "That is because some of them require a big change in the systems at Companies House."

Hodge said the Government had tried to create as little disturbance as possible for companies. "One of the most important aspects to implementing the Act is providing the least burdensome and most efficient transition to the new regime for existing companies. We have already consulted stakeholders, but today's document provides the basis for further consultation. We also set out how we propose to deal with secondary legislation under the Act," she said.

The DTI yesterday published a consultative document on the policy issues related to secondary legislation which will need to be made under the new Act, and on transitional and savings provisions. It invites comments by 31 May 2007 (except for those issues relating to political donations and expenditure, for which the DTI requests comments by 1st May).

The DTI provided an implementation timetable (on next page).

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