This essay aims to examine the history, meaning, practical function, legislation and development of corporate governance in the United Kingdom. Corporate governance is a subject that has become increasingly important over the last few decades and looks set to continue with continuing corporate failures pushing corporate governance to the forefront.
To fully understand the subject of corporate governance in the United Kingdom we must first define corporate governance and understand it's meaning. Schleifer and Vishny (1997) give a succinct, if rather narrow definition that "corporate governance deals with the way suppliers of finance assure themselves of getting a return on their investment". A broader and more functional definition is given by the OECD (1999).
"Corporate governance is the system by which business corporations are directed and controlled. The corporate governance structure specifies the distribution of rights and responsibilities among different participants in the corporation, such as the board, managers, shareholders and other stakeholders, and spells out the rules and procedures for making decisions on corporate affairs. By doing this, it also provides the structure through which the company objectives are set, and the means of attaining those objectives and monitoring performance."
Corporate governance is a wide and important subject that covers a range of issues from accountability and transparency and the relationship between shareholders, stakeholders and the company's management to the external and internal system of controls of companies to ensure that the best interests of the shareholders are being pursued and met.
The Wikipedia entry for corporate governance (2006) notes; "Corporate governance is a multi-faceted subject. An important theme of corporate governance deals with issues of accountability and fiduciary duty, essentially advocating the implementation of guidelines and mechanisms to ensure good behaviour and protect shareholders. Another key focus is the economic efficiency view, through which the corporate governance system should aim to optimise economic results, with a strong emphasis on shareholders welfare."
In brief, corporate governance is the system of controls to ensure that investors can assure themselves that they will get their investment back.
Jensen and Meckling (1976) developed the agency theory of shareholder-manager relationships as a 'nexus of contracts' between the principle, i.e. the owners and the agent, i.e. the managers. The agent is delegated power to make decisions and spend the principle's money on behalf of the latter. With this arrangement there arises possible problems. The separation of ownership and control dictates that the managers have increased power and levels of information than the owners and could, without monitoring and regulation, not act in the best interests of the shareholders. These agency problems can happen in many ways too numerous to list here but Jensen and Meckling (1976) realised some problems such as Moral - Hazard problems particularly relevant to the UK and US because of the market based contracting economies.
Corporate governance is varied in almost every country depending on a number of factors such as the economic development of the country, the strength of the legal system, the stability of the government but despite this the U.K is decidedly different from that of it's neighbouring regions in the E.U. There is a unitary board of management and a broader shareholder bases as well as hardly any dual shares and no pyramid structures. (Franks et al. 2004) An examination of the history and development of corporate governance and legislation in the U.K may provide some answers to the considerable differences that have occurred in contrast to many other European countries and worldwide.
The current situation as already stated is very different to it's European...