The role of the audit committee within the UK framework of corporate governance and accountability
The principal focus of this study is an exploration of the role and functioning of the audit committee within the UK framework of corporate governance. It contributes to the existing audit committee literature through • the presentation of a qualitative examination of the role of the audit committee in large UK public limited companies, which has not previously been attempted • the use of the analytical approach of actor-network theory which has not previously been applied to the study of audit committees • the demonstration that audit committees have a role beyond that envisaged for them by the Cadbury Code, in enabling companies to acquire resources by establishing legitimacy through a display of concern for reassuringly high standards of corporate governance. The importance to audit committee participants of consensus, independence and comfort is identified within the data collected. The links between these concepts are explored in the context of the ceremonial performance of the audit committee meeting. Consensus, achieved through complex networks among participants, is displayed at the meeting through a process of iterative questioning which demonstrates characteristics of independence among members, validating the consensus reached. Consensus serves to generate comfort which is viewed as a commodity produced by the audit committee and passed on to the main board. Ultimately, the published financial statements, which include evidence of the audit committee's existence and activity, provide comfort to external providers of finance that the company is maintaining appropriate standards of corporate governance. According to Cadbury, audit committees contribute to high standards of corporate governance: this study argues that this assertion remains unproven but that audit committees enable companies to present an image of concern about such standards which may be sufficient to establish legitimacy and permit access to resources to secure their survival and expansion.