Non-audit fees contributed 51.7% of the total audit fee for the average FTSE 350 company audit in 2013, a 24% drop on the 68% recorded in 2012, according to Grant Thornton UK’s annual Corporate Governance Review.
Overall, the average non-audit fee fell from £1.06m in 2012 to £0.84m in 2013, while the average audit fee rose from £2.58m to £2.68m in the same period.
The trend was especially strong in the FTSE 100, where non-audit fees represented on average 33.7% of the audit fee, down from 59.2% in 2012.
The review noted that non-audit services had been steadily declining in previous years, however this had accelerated in the past twelve months.
Chairman of Grant Thornton’s Corporate Governance Institute Simon Lowe suggested this was "likely to be a reflection of the current high profile media commentary around better auditor independence; coupled with the lacklustre economy and reduced M&A activity."
The report noted that a reverse of the trend may be expected when the economy improves and discretionary spend starts to pick up.
The use of non-audit services has been subject to much debate within the European Union, however, and anything decided upon could have a large impact in the future.
The report also covered a rise in the personal accountability taken by group and committee chairman in governance.
A total of 60% of group chairmen had personal introductions to governance statements, compared to 47% in the previous report.
The number of audit committee chairman with personal introductions also increased, up 91% on 2012 to 44%.
On the topic of company reports, Grant Thornton UK found they had increased in length by an average of three pages, or about 7,200 words per year for the past four years, and noted "it is questionable whether this onslaught has been accompanied by a measurable improvement in the usefulness and quality of the narrative."
On example of how the reports aren’t necessarily improving is that 84% of FTSE 350 companies did not display an integrated approach, failing to demonstrate the link between discussion of their business model, future plans, strategy and key risks.