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PwC Australia said it would cut 338 roles as a result of slowing economic growth and a tax scandal that has triggered a backlash against the firm in the country.
The Big Four consultancy said in a statement that the lay-offs reflected the reduced size of the business, market conditions and “the impact the past few months has had on our business”.
The job cuts came as Westpac, one of Australia’s largest banks, severed ties with the consultancy, which had been the bank’s auditor since 2002.
Westpac said on Wednesday that the move to tender the contract reflected best practice by rotating auditors, adding that it had not invited PwC to reapply for the role.
PwC is also cutting about 600 jobs in the UK, with the firm’s UK chair Kevin Ellis telling the Financial Times that the consultancy wanted to launch a redundancy round rather than delay or cancel job offers to hundreds of graduates and school-leavers.
The Australian division has been at the centre of a public storm after revelations in February that a senior partner who acted as an adviser to the government passed on information about impending tax law changes to colleagues trying to win business from US technology companies.
The scandal forced a number of PwC clients in the public and private sector to suspend contracts with the consultancy. It also increased scrutiny of the Big Four consultants’ power in Australia.
Max Bruce, an accounting lecturer at Australian National University, said Westpac’s move suggested that companies still feared potential reputational damage associated with PwC.
“I’d be very worried if I was PwC if a client of the scale of Westpac is pulling the pin,” he said.
Westpac declined to comment. A spokesperson for PwC Australia said it “understood” Westpac’s decision to tender its audit contract and would prioritise its performance for the remainder of its term.
PwC has been working to rehabilitate its reputation in the country. Kevin Burrowes, a veteran of the firm, was installed as chief executive in June. The government consulting business, renamed Scyne Advisory, was sold in the same month.
The job cuts will hit PwC’s Adelaide office, where 141 staff working in a service centre, mostly in the trust and consulting teams, have been fired. A further 197 staff across the Australian business have also been cut, while graduates joining the firm this year in the consulting business have been offered the chance to defer their start date by 12 months.
Burrowes said in a statement that PwC Australia was “optimistic about the future” despite being “forced to make” changes at the firm. “PwC must take pragmatic action to manage these challenges and make difficult decisions to meet the needs of its clients,” he said.