Wednesday, 26 March 2014

"What is lobbying?"... "Openness and transparency is vital."

The District Council will be considering the question of 'What is lobbying?' following the debate at full council last month:
Futures Forum: District Council meets to consider issue of Lobbying ... but ..."What is lobbying?"

Minutes of the Meeting of the Council 
held at Knowle, Sidmouth, on Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Motion 1 – Lobbying

The following motion (in the names of Councillors Claire Wright, Roger Giles, Susie Bond, Ben Ingham and Trevor Cope) was proposed by Councillor Claire Wright and seconded by Councillor Roger Giles: 

"Openness and transparency in the planning process is vital. This Council therefore agrees to include an item on the agenda of all Development Management Committee and Planning Inspections Committee meetings, requiring Members of those committees to declare if and who they have been lobbied by, about items on the agenda." 

In proposing the motion, Councillor Claire Wright referred to the adverse affect on public confidence of the police investigation into a former EDDC Councillor. She spoke of the importance of increasing public confidence in the Council and for transparency in its dealings. She said that the motion was straightforward and in line with the Probity in Planning document.

In seconding the motion, Councillor Roger Giles said that the proposal had no connected cost and complied with Nolan’s Principles of Public Life which still applied.

Comments made by Councillors when the motion was opened to debate included:
 There was no dispute that integrity was important but the motion assumed something improper and the wording was unclear.
 All Councillors were contacted regularly about development and so the definition of what lobbying actually meant needed to be clarified.
 Development Management Committee members all had specific training before they were able to serve on the Committee. They were all fully aware of the relevant element of the Council’s Constitution and the importance of complying with legislation. The Committee members were continually lobbied but they listened, sifted comments and then came to the meeting with an open mind.
 Listening to opinions and points of view was part of the democratic process.

Councillor Douglas Hull proposed an amendment to refer the motion to the next meeting of the Standards Committee to discuss and clarify its intention. The amendment was seconded by Councillor Mike Allen.

RESOLVED: that the motion as printed be referred to the next meeting of the Standards Committee for clarification and debate.
East Devon District Council - Standards Committee agendas, minutes and remit

The debate is a national - if not an international - one, with plenty of obfuscation going on. Not exactly in the interests of 'openness and transparency'...

There have been campaigns to have an 'official list' of lobbyists at Westminster for some time - but nobody seems to be able to agree on it:

Government lobbying reforms in disarray

Sunday, 29 January 2012 

The Sunday Times reports this morning that the Cabinet Office official in charge of government efforts to clean-up of lobbying has stepped down after posting a message on Twitter saying she hoped a group fighting for better regulation of the industry “would die”.

The remark appeared in a series of tweets by Eirian Walsh Atkins, who resigned as head of constitutional policy at the Cabinet Office on Friday. She now faces an internal investigation into possible breaches of the civil service code of conduct.

The paper reports: 'Walsh Atkins will be asked to explain the tweet she posted on December 22, saying: “I wish Unlock Democracy [the campaign group] would die. I am prepared to help it along.”

Asked by The Sunday Times to explain her comment about Unlock Democracy, she replied: “That I don’t like them,” and hung up.

However, more important than her apparent dislike of transparency campaigners is the fact that Walsh Atkins has held regular meetings with lobbyists seeking to influence the government's proposed statutory register of lobbyists, which she was responsible for preparing. She has met with the UK Public Affairs Council (UKPAC), a lobby industry body promoting self-regulation, on at least four occasions since September 2010. At the same time, transparency campaigners have been denied access.

The government's proposals for a statutory register, published last week, were widely seen as a whitewash, with lobbyists' fingerprints all over them.

The fact that the lobbying industry's lobbying of Walsh Atkins would remain a secret under the government's current proposals, will not do the government's case for minimal reform any favours.

Lobbying transparency
Government lobbying reforms in disarray
“What for?” and “How much”: two unanswered questions from a “meaningless list of lobbyists”

Why a statutory register of lobbyists alone won't solve the problem

June 10, 2013

On his web
site "standing up for lobbying", Mark Adams (Ex-Private Secretary to Tony Blair) under ‘Myth 7′ says that such a register alone might end up being viewed as a licence to lobby. The current ‘self regulation’ of the industry by the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) means that members of it are already subject to this code of conduct.

Why a statutory register of lobbyists alone won’t solve the problem

Lobbyists and politicians are simply too close. This has got to change

In the Westminster fishbowl, lobbyists and politicians are in a cosy club. A register must clarify whose interests MPs represent

Tamasin Cave, Tuesday 4 June 2013

There are two fundamental flaws to such a register. First, these transparency rules would only cover a fraction of the industry – so-called lobbyists-for-hire – and then possibly only some of those. It is not clear whether lawyer lobbyists, accountancy firms and management consultants who also seek to influence government on behalf of third-party clients would be covered. If not, they're likely to pick up business from the regulated agencies.

To only target lobbyists-for-hire would be a nonsense, It would mean a supermarket, say, with a team of six in-house, full-time, and typically well-connected lobbyists wouldn't have to declare its lobbying activity. But, if that supermarket temporarily took on an agency to increase its influence, the agency would have to register its lobbyists.

Second, the government appears to be proposing that lobbyists reveal only minimal information, merely their names and their clients. This is to deliberately misunderstand the purpose of a register of lobbyists, which is to increase government accountability. For it to be meaningful, a register must include lobbyists' interaction with officials. Whom are they meeting in government; which areas of policy are they seeking to shape; which laws and regulations do they want delayed or watered down; which taxes do they want cut; which multimillion pound contracts are they gunning for?

By omitting this information, the government has cut itself out of the equation. For every company investing in lobbying – and it is seen as an investment, with significant rates of return – there is a corresponding official or minister who puts the interest of the few above the public interest.

A register that compelled paid persuaders to operate in plain sight would not have prevented this latest scandal. That is not the point. Transparency rules for lobbyists are a part of changing the culture in Westminster that encourages such behaviour. Clearly, something is going on within parliament that means MPs and peers think it is acceptable to be paid to lobby for private interests.

David Cameron, in 2010, talked of the overly cosy relationship between politics, business and money, and of Westminster as a place where "money buys power, power fishes for money and a cosy club at the top makes decisions in their own interest". In a culture like this, it is surely easy to catch parliamentarians out.

Lobbyists and politicians are simply too close. This has got to change | Tamasin Cave | Comment is free | theguardian.com

The real influencers in Westminster outnumber lobbyists

13 June 2013 by Lynsey Barber

As the Government's lobbying plans remain firmly fixed on public affairs consultancies, PRWeek research has found that think-tanks, charities and not-for-profit organisations have greater access and potential influence within Westminster.

A review of the publicly available data on All Party Groups (APGs) has found public affairs firms are involved in the running of just 15 per cent of those that use secretariats, while charities account for 34 per cent and not-for-profit organisations 22 per cent.

The real influencers in Westminster outnumber lobbyists | PR Week

In other words, the much debated 'lobbying bill' came to affect "think-tanks, charities and not-for-profit organisations" rather than formal "PR" companies:

How most lobbyists will escape from the lobbying bill
November 15, 2013 by Jim Pickard

We have written before, at great length, about how the lobbying bill is one of the worst piece of legislation put before the Houses of Parliament for many moons.

Even the recent concessions from ministers have failed to quell the dissent, with the FT recently opining: “The retreat is welcome. But it fails to resolve other flaws in a hastily drafted bill which, as it stands, should be rejected.”

I’ve been passed some new stats which underline one reason why the bill is flawed. The legislation will force disclosure of visits by third-party lobbyists to either ministers or permanent secretaries. (But not any other civil servant or special adviser.)

The lobbying industry is up in arms because the new transparencys does NOT apply to the in-house lobbyists which dominate big companies, business groups and unions.

The figures I’ve been given from the APPC* spell out how the third-party firms are massively out-gunned by the in-house lobbyists when it comes to meetings with senior decision-makers at BIS, the business department.

Here is the full chart.

Ministers at BIS had 717 meetings and 173 instances of “hospitality” during 2012.

Of these, third-party lobbyists accounted for just 2 meetings and 1 meal. By contrast, those from “business/banks/trade associations) accounted for 717 meetings and 173 hospitality events. Meanwhile trade unions had 40 meetings while charities had 34 with BIS ministers.

How most lobbyists will escape from the lobbying bill | Westminster blog

The Lobbying Bill ignores the real scandal: the secretive arm-twisting of civil servants by vested interests

By Douglas Carswell Politics August 19th, 2013

The Government's Lobbying Bill, according to the Commons reformer Graham Allen MP, is a "dog's breakfast". He is wrong, of course. Far more thought has gone into pet nutrition than into this Bill.

Let’s be clear about a couple of things: lobbying can be an entirely legitimate part of the democratic process. This week, I will be meeting with a group of lobbyists, as I make a point of doing every week. They are called constituents – and they approach me about every subject under the sun, from immigration, to knife crime in Clacton, to the problem of the neighbour’s cat.

That said, there is – I believe – a problem with what you might call "problem lobbying”. By which, I mean, big vested interests, on occasions, influencing public policy in a way that the public might not necessarily appreciate.

How might we ensure that the right sort of lobbying continues, but not the wrong sort?

Any attempt to distinguish between constituents lobbying their MP, and non constituents, would be absurd. Could I only speak to Tesco supermarket if the person wanting to talk to me worked in Clacton, not Colchester? Of course not. In the age of email, campaigns are commonly run from London, but made to appear as if they are coming from local residents. Thankfully the Bill does not attempt to draw such a distinction.

But what it does seek to do is require organisations whose main business is lobbying to register on a statutory register. Quite how being on a register will change things, the Bill does not really explain.

The Lobbying Bill ignores the real scandal: the secretive arm-twisting of civil servants by vested interests – Telegraph Blogs

The Lobbying Bill was passed at the end of January:
Futures Forum: Concerns for campaigning: Lobbying Bill to become law

With many doubting the effectiveness or point of it:

Lobbying: it will come back to bite them

29 January 2014

The government's proposed register of lobbyists is set to become law, as the controversial Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill passed through the Lords last night.

The register of lobbyists that will now be introduced will not open lobbying as promised by the coalition in May 2010. As the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency has said all along, the government's register is a sham. A fake. It will not allow the public to see who is influencing our politicians. It merely allows the government to tick a box.

As the graphics below show, the government's register fails in two key ways. First, it covers barely any lobbyists, requiring only those working as lobbyists-for-hire who meet ministers (or permanent secretaries) to register. All in-house lobbyists working inside banks, energy firms, payday loan lenders, alcohol and tobacco companies etc are exempt, as are corporate lobbyists in business lobby groups like the CBI, as is anyone who doesn't lobby a minister directly, which is the majority.

Second, it will reveal nothing of what or whom they are seeking to influence. Lobbyists in those agencies that have direct contact with ministers will be required to list merely their clients. There will be no record of dealings with special advisers, civil servants or regulators; no information on what they are seeking to influence or what deals are being done; nor how much money is being spent to sway government.

The government's decision to pretend to open up lobbying will come back to bite them. Lobbyists are a permanent feature in British politics. They are not going away and neither will the widespread feeling that their private interests are being favoured over the public interest.

This new law will do nothing to open up decision-making and restore trust. It is an exercise in time-wasting.

Only a tiny minority of lobbyists will be covered by the new law:

This minority will only be required to disclose minimal information on their lobbying

Lobbying Transparency - Home

What will not be covered will be the art of the 'revolving door':
Campaigners call for more scrutiny of EU's 'revolving door': theparliament.com

PR will certainly remain as sexy as ever:

Lobbying: The art of political persuasion by Lionel Zetter

Cover of Lobbying by Lionel Zetter"There is good lobbying and bad lobbying, just like there is good sex and bad sex, but I think most of us would prefer to have bad sex rather than no sex at all." Lionel Zetter first uttered these words - which could suitably appear on his tombstone - at a Select Committee hearing.

Now he has written an easy-to-follow manual of political persuasion that could have been called the Joy of Lobbying or the Good Lobbying Guide.

It is clearly from lobbying, a term he much prefers to mealy-mouthed euphemisms such as public affairs, that Lionel gets his kicks. He is a well-known and much-liked doyen of the sector, a former president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and this year's Personality of the Year as voted by readers of Public Affairs News. So it is no surprise that the great and the good of that world queue up to pay tribute in the cover blurb. In other words, this is more or less the official bible of the lobbying industry.

Lobbying: The art of political persuasion by Lionel Zetter | Lobbying by Lionel Zetter

And fears for what exactly all of this will mean at local government level are as muddy as ever:
Futures Forum: Fears of losses in accountability at local government level...
Futures Forum: Payments and patronage in East Devon

What is clear, however, is that 'officially listed' lobbyists seem to be disappearing - with a whole host of other 'influences' at work - many of which are difficult to determine, even with the use of the odd Freedom of Information Request, at whatever level of government...

An article in last month's Nation magazine points to how much of the lobbying is carried out beneath the radar anyway:

The Shadow Lobby

Where Have All the Lobbyists Gone? | The Nation

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