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Iain Anderson

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We Really Need Transparency in Lobbying

Posted: 07/12/11 11:48

I'm a lobbyist. I'm really proud to be one.

After the last few days of headlines you would have thought I would want to keep my head down. Not at all. Now is the time to stand up for transparent lobbying and to drive out of the industry once and for all those who not prepared to stand up for transparency.

What marks the current 'lobbygate' story out from the others we have seen in the past few years is that - yes - it involves professional lobbyists. But it does not involve a real client - it is was another 'sting' designed to expose.

In fact the last two lobbying scandals had no lobbyists to be seen. The Adam Werrity affair did not involve a professional lobbyist and the previous 'scandal' involved greedy - now former - MPs who were also caught in a Fleet Street undercover operation.

But this story is different.

It raises real questions about ethics, governance and integrity. I have always been a firm believer that if this work does not stand the test of public scrutiny you should not be doing it. In a world where we all demand more that must be right.

Steve Richards writing in the Independent today has it spot on. Everyone needs to know more about lobbying. Let me start here.

It is vital that policymakers are able to make decisions with all the information available to them.

Privileged access is wrong. That's is why I have always opposed Parliamentary passes giving special access to Westminster for many charities, third sector groups, unions and commercial interests. There should be no privileged access for anyone other than Parliamentarians and their staff.

Equally, many of us are proud to openly declare our clients on a public register. At Cicero we have done so for the past decade. That should indeed be the norm for professional lobbyists. And that means declaring ALL clients at all times.

But can it be right for the content of all meetings with ministers and officials to be declared as some have argued. The taxpayer has to be able to get best value too. If government - in all its parts - was to be forced to declare a minute by minute account of external meetings we would have to create a vast army of civil servants to police this work. At a time of austerity?

Indeed the taxpayer interest needs to be able to negotiate with commercial interests in a manner which drives down costs for taxpayers - that cannot be played out by a running commentary of negotiations.

Equally, when government needs to be able to talk to the real world outside the Westminster 'bubble' - this may prove more difficult as civil servants and ministers assess the need for onerous disclosure.

And Westminster needs to be able to talk to the real world, in all its guises.

That is why yesterday's 10 Minute Rule Bill from John Cryer MP is right to call for more transparency but completely wrong to single out commercial interests. It is vital that policymakers can talk openly to all sides of a debate - so that means the planned statutory register of lobbyists MUST include charities, unions, lawyers, trade groups, consultancies, in fact all who lobby professionally. Not just the private sector.

So it is high time for the government to respond. Whatever its planned solution is it vital it encourages an open dialogue and a level playing field for everyone who wants to talk to public policymakers.

Iain Anderson is also Chairman of the CIPR Public Affairs Group and a member of the Management Committee of the Association of Professional Political Consultants

 

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