Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) consultation prompts questions around Saudi Aramco
It is not every day that obscure, technical consultations by Regulators hit the headlines.
However, two high-profile Members of Parliament have just thrown a spotlight on a potentially controversial watering down of important rules about who can and cannot be listed on the London stock exchange.
At first glance, it looks a professionally-prepared consultation meeting most best practice standards. Its title is a ‘Proposal to create a new premium listing category for sovereign controlled companies’ – but in the title lies the potential problem for this and other similar exercises. All the questions are phrased on the formula ‘Do you agree with…?’ So this is clearly not a consultation asking people to choose from a number of potential solutions to a problem. This is a consultation seeking approval for a very detailed proposal – in this case waiving some important investor safeguards for Companies which are owned by a sovereign country. FCA can point out that it published a Discussion Paper and held a previous consultation which helped inform the present proposal, and has probably been careful enough to avoid claims of pre-determination.
The political dimension is that Nicky Morgan, as Chair of the Treasury Select Committee and Rachel Reeves, who chairs the Business Select Committee are worried this is all about finding a way to lure the mega-rich Saudi Aramco Company to list itself in London rather than New York. Fair enough, but it raises the age-old issue that consultations are often about a hidden agenda. The FCA naturally does not mention Aramco in the consultation paper, but often the true motivation for important changes of policy or – in this case, regulatory relaxation is different from the story as it appears in official documents.
There are parallels here with changes to public services, so although this seems a different world, issues of Transparency, Disclosure and best practice in consultations are universal.