Proposed changes to accounting rules may punish contractors that sign up to large projects

The change would force listed companies to wait until a project is handed over to the client before declaring revenue, rather than when the money is received.

A group of major contractors, including Balfour Beatty, Laing O’Rourke and Costain, has written to the International Accounting Standards Board and the US Financial Accounting Standards Boards to complain about the plans.

Currently, under international accounting rules, contractors can book revenue as it is actually paid, throughout the project. Under the new rules, which are intended to standardise reporting conventions across industries, contractors with large projects could go for several years with no revenues from it on their balance sheet.

The letter, sent by Duncan Magrath, Balfour’s finance director, on 19 June, said: “The principles would devalue the use of financial statements to investors and other users of the account. This is a fundamental issue for construction.”

It makes the relationship between profit and loss and cash flow nonsensical

Kevin Cammack, Cenkos

Fiona McDermott, a partner in KPMG, said the system would put people off Wembley-sized projects. She said: “I struggle to see why anyone would bid for such a large development if they could only take revenue when it was it completed.”

Kevin Cammack, an analyst at Cenkos Securities, said: “Contractors are going to carry massive debt through long projects. It makes the relationship between profit and loss and cash flow a bit nonsensical.”

A full draft of the new rules is set to be published next year, with a new standard due in 2011.