Plans to increase town hall transparency and stop the practice of local authorities hiring lobbyists to press-gang Government into pet funding projects or new regulations have been proposed by Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles.
A consultation will be launched to update The Local Authority Publicity Code, which guards against campaigning with public funds. It will include stronger guidance to stop tax payer money from being spent on private lobbying contractors to persuade the public or Government to take a particular view on specific policies.
Ministers believe that using taxpayers’ funds on local government campaigns or to lobby government wastes public money as it gets used beyond the local area; public policy is weakened when conducted by private lobbying firms. They are private organisations not subject to Freedom of Information or transparency rules. The government will continue to conduct business with local government through existing direct channels.
The new Government has already set out plans for tougher rules to stop councils using taxpayer-funded town hall newspapers to acting in direct competition with commercial independent rivals.
Mr Pickles has already instructed all his department’s quangos, including Ordnance Survey and the Tenants Services Authority, to cancel their contracts with lobbying firms. The Audit Commission’s lobbying contract ended in February 2010.
Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said:
Taxpayer-funded lobbying and propaganda on the rates weakens our democracy. So-called town hall newspapers are already closing down scrutiny from independent local papers. Now lobbyists are being used sidestep transparency laws and shadowy figures are peddling more regulation and special favours.
Local activism and localism don’t need lobbyists. If local politicians want to change the way government operates, their council should send a letter or pick up the phone. Councillors can campaign for change at a personal or party political level, rather than throwing away other people’s council tax on the corrosive and wasteful practice of government lobbying government. These tough new rules will lower the cost of politics and increase transparency.
Notes to editors
Subject to consultation the new Government is minded to revise and tighten the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity. The Code was originally introduced in 1988 and amended by the last Government in 2001. It is statutory guidance to local authorities. The Secretary of State is legally obliged to consult on the revised code. www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/coderecommended.
In a statement to Parliament, (Hansard, 26 July 2010, col. 630W. www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm100726/text/100726w0001.htm#10072632000535 (external link)) the new Government has announced plans to stop the spread of public sector lobbying at a town hall level. This will build on existing rules intended to stop ‘propaganda’ publicity campaigns.
‘Andrew Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if he will issue guidance to local authorities on the retention and use of lobbying companies for the provision of lobbying and support services to campaign for increased funding.
Robert Neill: The Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity, to which councils are statutorily required to have regard, states that councils should ensure the greatest cost effectiveness in all their publicity and makes clear that public funds should not be used for publicity campaigns intended to persuade the public to hold a particular view on a question of policy.
The Code of Recommended Practice is shortly to be updated. Subject to consultation, we are minded to include stronger guidance to stop the wasteful and unhealthy practice of councils, funded by local or national taxpayers, paying for lobbyists to lobby Government. My Department has already issued guidance to its arms length bodies to cancel their contracts with lobbyists.’
- Eric Pickles has informed his Arms Length Bodies to cancel their contracts with lobbyists. This chart outlines expenditure on lobbying firms in the last year:
Ordnance Survey - Mandate - £35,767 (2009-10, source: CLG internal records; listed as public affairs consultancy in Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) Register, 1 June 2009 to 31 August 2009)
Audit Commission - Connect Public Affairs - £55,617 (December 2008 to December 2009; source: Hansard, 1 December 2009, col. 640W and Hansard, 7 December 2009, cols. 57-58W)
Tenants Services Authority - APCO Worldwide - est. £80,500 (August 2008 to May 2009, source: Hansard, 19 May 2009, col. 1345W). A copy of the contract brief is at: www.parliament.uk/deposits/depositedpapers/2010/DEP2010-0046.doc (external link).
West Northants Development Corporation - Chelgate - £79,595 (2009-10, source: CLG internal records. Chelgate is not APPC or PRCA registered).
London Thames Gateway Development Corporation - Connect Public Affairs - £6,355 (2009-10, source: CLG internal records) and London Communications Agency - £153,869 (2009-10, source: CLG internal records; listed as public affairs consultancy in Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) Public Affairs Register, Dec 2009 to Feb 2010; this will include some marketing spend) and previously Euro RSCG Apex Communications (Hansard, 1 May 2008, col. 669W).
Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation - Connect Public Affairs - £58,536 (2009-10, source: CLG internal records and APPC Register, 1 March 2010 to 31 May 2010) and London Communications Agency - £113,682 (2009-10, source: CLG internal records; listed as public affairs consultancy in PRCA Public Affairs Register, Dec 2009 to Feb 2010; this will include some marketing spend).
Homes and Communities Agency - Communique - £5,808 (2009-10, source: CLG internal records; listed as public affairs consultancy in APPC Register, 1 June 2009 to 31 August 2009; their website states: “Communique is a consultancy that provides the specialist services of political liaison, public consultation and media relations. We work on behalf of private and public clients in a range of markets including property development, transport and utilities”).
Housing Ombudsman - APCO Worldwide - £12,400 (2009-10, source: CLG internal records; listed as public affairs consultancy in APPC Register, 1 June 2009 to 31 August 2009; work that took place was for a Communications and Engagement (C and E) Strategy, a Communications and Engagement Programme and a Stakeholder Perception Survey).
Fire Service College - Four Communications - £16,949 (2009-10, source: CLG internal records) (NB. Lobbying and engagement in relation to a planning application, rather than of central government).
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