The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency: Campaigning to end secrecy in lobbying.
Lobbyists are paid to influence government decisions. So, whether it's the private healthcare lobby pushing for the current NHS reforms; or banks lobbying against reform of the financial system; or the construction industry wanting to get their hands on greenbelt land, the activities of lobbyists affect our lives in countless ways.
We think the public should know who is influencing government decisions.
And the government agrees in principle - it has promised to make lobbying transparent with a register of lobbyists. But its current plans to open up the influence industry are a sham. Now is the time to tell them what you think, and put an end to the back-room deal nature of politics. Read on.
1 July 2014
On the eve of the Conservative Party’s annual fundraising dinner, the Guardian today reveals last year’s secret guest list and, with it, the murky world of political donations and lobbying.
The Conservative Party intended the list to remain private. Despite promises by this government to be 'the most transparent in the world', the public aren’t to know the company that they keep.
But, as the final preparations are made for tonight’s fundraiser at the Hurlingham private members’ club in west London, documents passed to TBIJ show the web of bankers, businesspeople, foreign interests and lobbyists that twelve months ago pressed the flesh with Conservative politicians.
Among those that David Cameron and members of the Cabinet spent the evening with are:
Buying a seat at a minister’s table provides these already influential and advantaged individuals – there was an estimated total wealth in the room last year of £11bn – with an opportunity to forge relationships with our politicians, demonstrate their support for the party, and crucially open discussions with Ministers about their concerns.
The consequences of such a system – one that provides private access for the wealthy and well connected, while everyone else is excluded – are all around us.
27 June 2014
Here’s a little test for the government’s statutory lobbying register (when it eventually arrives).
Former Planning Minister, Bob Neill (on the left here at a lobbing agency reception), has taken a job with a lobbying agency that has so far refused to sign up to any of the voluntary registers that the statutory register will replace.
This means that his new employer, planning specialist, Cratus Communcations, does not currently declare its clients, which include housebuilders and developers.
Nor would it – probably – under the government’s new statutory system given the enormous loopholes. Nearly 40% of agency lobbyists (the only section of the industry that is covered by the new legislation) say they won’t have to register and declare their clients, as they “never” have direct face-to-face engagement with ministers or permanent secretaries (one of the criteria that triggers the requirement to register). Only 9% of agency lobbyists say they meet ministers or permanent secretaries regularly. The rest only do so occasionally.
This means that Cratus Communications, which now employs a Tory ex-minister that less than two years ago was responsible for local government and planning, is unlikely to start declaring who it is lobbying for any time soon. We’ll be as much in the dark as we are now.
“We must be the party that sorts all this out,” David Cameron said of lobbying in the run up to the last general election, singling out the problem of ‘ex-ministers for hire”.
What he’s done instead is give us a sham register.
12 May 2014
A businessman who spent a year advising the government has revealed his shock at the influence and access lobbyists have with ministers.
As “entrepreneur in residence” at the Business Department, Lawrence Tomlinson had an unrivalled view of how lobbyists operate. He concluded that finance lobbyists are seen as "indispensable" by ministers.
What was shocking, he said, was the "influence of certain organisations, trade associations and individuals within government," singling out the British Banking Association, who he noted “have their foot through the door” of government and are capable of overwhelming attempts by others to change policies.
Tomlinson added that, while lobbying can serve a valid purpose, the process must be transparent, and conflicts and interests must be declared. He also criticised the common practice where former senior officials and special advisors who write government policy go on to work for major corporations: “In parts of government, there is a revolving door with the large corporates who have a deep interest in government policy,” he said.
"The conflicts of interest are plainly apparent, and the number of lobbyists and force they have, can hardly be matched by the business community. These interests need to be made more transparent to prevent these conflicts having an impact on our policy making processes.”
The laughable response from the government to Tomlinson's damning observations was to point out that David Cameron had just introduced a register of lobbyists, which he claims will shine a light on lobbying. It is widely acknowledged that the register introduced by the Coalition in January is a sham. For a start, it would not include the British Bankers Association, or any lobbyists working in-house for corporations (large or small). In fact, it deliberately excludes more than 80% of the UK's £2billion lobbying industry. And then, it requires those lobbyists that fall into its tiny net (with massive loopholes) to declare nothing of their lobbying activity.
Tomlinson, who has seen lobbyists operate from inside government, is right to speak out. His remit was how to improve policy for small firms. He has seen with his own eyes that SMEs don't have a hope in hell against the influence of big business and bankers.
As Spinwatch's Tamasin Cave and Andy Rowell set out in their new book on lobbying, A Quiet Word, large corporations have been allowed to become dominant in government. The amount they spend on lobbying and the associated influence of their lobbyists has bought them a structural advantage. They are drowning out everyone else.
A Quiet Word also notes, as Tomlinson does, that rather than being seen as parasitical, corporate lobbyists should more accurately be viewed as subsidising government. As lobbying activity has increased, so our government has become ever more dependent on lobbyists to function.
As the book reveals, politicians can on occasion be candid about this: "Lobbying is absolutely fundamental to the way we legislate in the UK, right across the board," according to Tim (Lord) Razzall, a politician of forty years’ experience, at the 2011 Liberal Democrat Conference. "The lobbying organisations do your . . ." He corrects himself: ". . . a lot of the work for you." Legislators are "inundated" with appeals from lobbyists whenever laws are being crafted. "Very often" the way to get changes to proposed laws is simply to email them over. Do politicians actually take any notice of the overtures of lobbyists? "Absolutely," said Razzall. The government takes a "huge amount" of notice.
And why do large corporations spend disproportionately more on lobbying that anyone else? Because they see lobbying as a tactical investment. Put simply, lobbying pays. It delivers a financial return. And the payback can be "astronomic", as the FT noted yesterday, describing the return on lobbying by hedge funds in Washington.
When it comes to lobbying, it is the case that there is a corporate elite and there is everyone else (SMEs, NGOs, the public etc). Transparency in lobbying is one small step to addressing the disparity. It is one that this government has yet to take.
To discover more about corporate lobbying, and how commercial lobbyists buy access and influence to our government, get hold of a copy of A Quiet Word: Lobbying, Crony Capitalism and Broken Politics in Britain by Tamasin Cave and Andy Rowell. "A timely account of how voters are conceding power to a silent industry", says the Mail on Sunday.
29 April 2014
Statement from Tamasin Cave of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency following the decision to ban Conservative MP, Patrick Mercer from Parliament for six months. Mercer has now resigned triggering a byelection in his Newark seat.
The punishment comes as a result of revelations published last year, when it was alleged that he accepted cash in return for tabling questions in the Commons, agreeing to set up an All Party Parliamentary Group and offering to produce a Parliamentary report on behalf of a client in return for £4,000.
"Mercer must be reeling after this judgement. There is no question he will have seen others behaving in a similar way and getting away with it. There is a culture within British politics where accepting cash for influence is deemed, if not acceptable, then not overtly risky behaviour.
Three years ago the Prime Minister said that lobbying was the 'next big scandal waiting to happen'. Since then, nothing has been done to rein in the commercial lobbying industry. Cameron has introduced what is widely-viewed as a bogus register of lobbyists.
Mercer did wrong, but he will also be aware that while he has been severely punished, the government has refused to control, or in any way expose the £2bn lobbying business to scrutiny.
Politicians know better than most that we have a problem with commercial lobbying in this country. The scandal is that they refuse to do anything about it. Mercer's going won't solve it."
23 April 2014
Australia's rules for lobbyists, which the UK has chosen to copy, are set to be reformed in the wake of yet more lobbying scandals.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott is said to be 'deeply concerned' about the continuing behaviour of officials and former MPs in his Liberal Party as they try to covertly influence government decisions outside of the rules. In recent weeks, an official inquiry has exposed evidence of murky political influence-peddling in the party.
As a consequence, Australia's weak transparency regulations for lobbyists have come under scrutiny. Currently, only lobbyists-for-hire working on behalf of third party clients are required to declare their existence on a public register. Lobbyists working in-house for corporations are exempt from the rules.
This is the model register of lobbyists adopted by the UK government earlier this year. It will require that only a tiny fraction of lobbyists sign up. As one former Australian politician says of this system: 'What you've got covered is the tip of the iceberg.'
'Chairmen of boards, boards of directors, CEOs, directors of government relations for any Australian company can walk in and out of any Australian parliament unrecorded and unregulated.'
The UK government has been warned that scandals involving lobbyists will continue to dog politics unless robust transparency rules are put in place. Yet, it is determined to follow the weak system adopted by Australia, a system now undergoing urgent reform.
“We need to bite the bullet and get this process done and dusted," Liberal party member and long-term advocate for party reform, John Ruddick, told the Guardian.
The UK government seems intent on taking the same road, one that inevitably leads to more scandals, resignations and damage to the reputation of politics.
4 April 2014
The Lobbying Act, which was passed by the Coalition in January this year, purports to introduce new transparency rules for lobbyists. The statutory register of lobbyists contained in the Act, however, is a fake. It will not allow the public to see who is lobbying the government.
Ed Miliband has now committed Labour to introducing a more robust register. Sensibly, Labour's register would cover all lobbyists. The Coalition's covers only a small fraction of the industry. It remains to be seen, however, whether the opposition would require lobbyists to reveal enough information to allow us to know who is lobbying whom in government, what they are seeking to influence, whether that's fracking regulations, NHS contracts, or more tax breaks for multi-nationals. The current register, as laid out in the Lobbying Act, would reveal none of this. It is merely a list of (some) lobbying companies and their clients.
A robust register of lobbyists that is fit-for-purpose must:
The government must now own up to the fact that its new rules for lobbyists are a sham. Everyone knows they are a sham (including the commercial lobbying industry). Any more lobbying scandals in the run up to the general election will expose them for what they are.
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.
22 January 2014
The government's register of lobbyists being yanked through Parliament will do nothing to expose the £2bn influence industry that is embedded in our political system.
Today ministers rejected even minor improvements put forward by the Lords to the Lobbying Bill. Crucially, the government has ignored pleas to include lobbying of ministerial special advisers (as a trigger for registration). This is to wilfully ignore the central role these advisers play in the lives of lobbyists.
The government has shown itself to be deaf to the legitimate concerns people have over 'secret corporate lobbying', as David Cameron described it in opposition. The panicked way the bill is being rushed through Parliament also reveals the government's contempt for Parliamentary process and public debate.
The bill does nothing to expose big money corporate lobbying, but it will muzzle public interest campaign groups. You couldn't make it up.
Commercial lobbyists overwhelmingly think that they should be regulated, according to a poll published today by lobbyists' trade body the Public Relations Consultants Association.
Ninety one per cent of the industry polled thought that the proposed register of lobbyists should include all lobbyists, regardless of whether they work for an agency or in-house.
The government, in its wisdom, disagrees. The register it is introducing, which could compete its journey through Parliament in a matter of days, excludes all in-house lobbyists and even some working in agencies.
Which is why, according to the survey, only four per cent of lobbyists believe the government’s lobbying bill will significantly increase the transparency of the industry.
17 January 2014
The Lobbying Bill, working its way through the Lords, remains a dog’s breakfast, despite efforts by some peers to improve it.
Monday’s session in the House of Lords created the potential for a tiny tweak to the Bill. One of the major loopholes in the government’s Bill was made marginally smaller when peers voted through an amendment that would require lobbyists who meet with ministerial special advisers (SpAds) to register their lobbying.
As it is currently drafted, only lobbying of ministers and permanent secretaries would trigger registration, which as any commercial lobbyist will confirm, is seldom the case. It remains to be seen whether the government will accept this minor change to the Bill.
Regardless, the register of lobbyists proposed in the Bill remains bogus. It will not allow us to see who is influencing our politicians and for what, whether that’s a tax break, more privatisation or fighting against public health measures. As shadow cabinet office minister, Baroness Hayter remarked this week: 'It introduces a register of lobbyists so limited that it is not worthy of the name and might actually make things worse.'
Meanwhile the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and others campaigning for a register have given evidence this week to Members of the Scottish Parliament conducting an inquiry into the need for a register at Holyrood. Commercial lobbyists in Scotland were also given the opportunity to present their case.
Downplaying their role in influencing the decisions of government, representatives of the lobbying industry insisted their role was merely to ‘inform’ politicians’ decisions. No mention was made of the massive, persuasive campaigns orchestrated by lobbyists to shift government thinking.
A representative from the trade body, the Association of Professional Political Consultants, Illiam Costain McCade, did suggest, however, that commercial lobbyists would be willing to reveal more information on their lobbying activity, namely their interactions with politicians. He told the inquiry that lobbyists in the APPC would be willing to publicly declare more than just who is lobbying, but also who they’re meeting in government and what was discussed. Previously, the lobbying body has agreed only to reveal the names of lobbyists and their clients, information that is useless for anyone trying to find out about lobbyists’ dealings with politicians. This is a welcome step forward.
The Scottish inquiry comes on the back of a commitment in the summer by the Scottish government to introduce a bill on Lobbying Transparency within this session of the Scottish Parliament, after Labour MSP Neil Findlay’s private members’ bill got cross-party support in Edinburgh.
Finally, looking forward to this programme from the BBC on Monday: Declared Interests: the business of politics (Radio 4, 8pm). It promises to expose ‘the ways in which outside interests try to gain access to the corridors of power without anyone breaking the rules.’ Timely stuff.