UK Public Affairs Council

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The UK Public Affairs Council (UKPAC) is an umbrella organisation established in July 2010 with the aim of "promoting independent regulation of the public affairs sector"; to be achieved by the means of the quarterly publication of a voluntary register of lobbyists.[1] UKPAC was formed by representatives from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) and the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA).

Contents

Background

In January 2009, the Public Administration and Select Committee (PASC) of the House of Commons published its report 'Lobbying: Access and Influence in Whitehall', recommending the introduction of measures which would "promote ethical behaviour by lobbyists", ensure "the maximum reasonable degree of transparency", and "make it harder for politicians and public servants to use the information and contacts they have built up in office as an inducement to other potential employers". Although the Committee "do not believe that transparency requirements are ever likely to be enforceable through self-regulation", they suggest that there could be "a role for a self-regulatory organisation in promoting ethical behaviour by those involved in lobbying". For the current situation of self-regulation to be made more effective, PASC recommended the establishment of "a single umbrella organisation with both corporate and individual membership, in order to be able to cover all those who are involved in lobbying as a substantial part of their work". Furthermore, the running of the organisation should involve individuals from outside lobbying; with a clear separation between the promotion, representation and regulation of lobbying; and the introduction of more rigorous scrutiny and external validation.[2]

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) "sees UKPAC as an opportunity to create a meaningful register which distinguishes between those [lobbyists] who are ethical and transparent, and those who are not".[3]

Objectives

The aim of the UK PAC is to promote public confidence in those who, in a professional capacity, undertake lobbying by encouraging and sustaining high ethical standards, transparency and accountability amongst those whom the Council regulates. It will offer a system of voluntary regulation to ensure that all those involved in lobbying institutions of government can be governed by a clear set of principles, underpinned by enforceable Codes of Conduct. Further, it will assist public confidence by establishing a publicly accessible Register of those involved in lobbying, indicating the organisations on whose behalf they are lobbying.[4]

Definition of lobbying

UKPAC employs the following definition of lobbying:

Lobbying means in a professional capacity, attempting to influence, or advising those who wish to influence, the UK Government, Parliament, the devolved legislatures or administrations, regional or local government or other public bodies on any matter within their competence. This covers members who spend all or a significant amount of their time (for example at least 20% of their professional working time) on lobbying activities. Members who do less than 20% may register at their discretion.[5]

Governance

The following details of governance are outlined in the UKPAC Terms of Reference:

The UK Public Affairs Council will be chaired on a Non-Executive, part-time basis by an independent person of high standing drawn from outside the lobbying industry but with experience relevant to the industry. The Chairman will be joined on the UK PAC Board by two further part-time, independent members, plus six representatives from the lobbying industry, initially comprising two representatives each from the APPC, CIPR and PRCA. Each member body will have one vote. Any decisions taken by the Board will require a majority separately amongst the independent members and amongst the members representing the industry. Other member bodies will be eligible to join, subject to satisfying the tests set out below, and will then be entitled to nominate representatives on the Board.[6]

Funding

UKPAC is funded by the three founding bodies.[7]

People

Implementation Group

Sir Philip Mawer Chairman
Mark Adams Deputy Chairman

Council Board

Independent members

Elizabeth France Chairman
Sir George Kidd
Roger Sands

Industry representatives

Francis Ingham of PRCA
Keith Johnston of CIPR
Gill Morris of APPC

Self-regulation or a statutory register?

The self-regulatory model espoused by UKPAC has been subject to extensive criticism. Speaking following the launch of UKPAC, Tamasin Cave of the Allliance for Lobbying Transparency - a coalition of civil society groups which campaigns for a mandatory register - remarked that:

This is the old system of self-regulation by another name, a system that was described last year by the influential Public Administration Select Committee as 'little better than the emperor’s new clothes'. Recent events show such a voluntary system to be totally ineffective. UKPAC is yesterday's solution. Joining UKPAC is voluntary, which means that lobbyists will continue to hide who they are lobbying for simply by not signing up. As a result, the public will stay in the dark over who is lobbying to change government policy, whether it’s defence companies bidding for multi-million pound contracts, private healthcare companies influencing NHS decisions, or supermarkets fighting new labeling rules.[8]

'Politicians for Hire', damage limitation and manifesto pledges

Following the March 2010 Sunday Times and Dispatches joint exposé - in which senior politicians were recorded offering to help the private sector lobby the government - the Labour Government made an announcement on 22 March 2010 outlining its commitment to the introduction of a statutory register of lobbyists. In an interview for Sky News, Foreign Secretary David Miliband remarked that "the Labour manifesto is going to say more about the need for a statutory register of the lobbying industry, because there is absolutely no room for the sort of innuendo or promises that seem to have been floated in this case".[9] Prior to the negative headlines, David Singleton of PR Week writes, "Labour insiders admitted the party had merely been 'considering' making a statutory code as a manifesto commitment".[10]

The Labour Government was not, however, alone in their attempts at damage limitation. Lobbyists were similarly provoked into "an imprompty PR offensive"[11] with the aim of salvaging the industry's reputation. At the forefront of this were CIPR's former president Lionel Zetter and Warwick Smith of College Public Policy, who duly produced a series of "key media lines" for those required to discuss the issue:

  • This is not about lobbyists; none were involved.
  • It is about politicians doing things for which they were not elected
  • You can be a lobbyist or a legislator, but not both
  • It is frustrating that politicians are proposing tougher regulation of the industry when this issue is all about them, and the UK industry has put its house in order.[12]

Despite their best attempts to avoid this "tougher regulation of the industry", Labour's plans for a statutory register of lobbyists were already in motion. Cabinet Office minister Angela Evans Smith wrote to Sir Philip Mawer, Chairman of UKPAC's Implementation Group, saying:

As you know we have taken the decision to have a statutory register of lobbyists. The work that you and the Council are doing to produce a voluntary register will help in the work of delivering a statutory register and I would encourage those who are considering signing up to the voluntary register to do so.[13]

Writing in Public Affairs News, Mark Adams (Deputy Chairman of UKPAC's Implementation Group) responded, arguing that:

[T]here are some serious issues about a statutory register that must be addressed. How will the enforcement of a statutory register be paid for? If, as some have argued, it is to be paid for by the 'lobbying industry', it will introduce an astonishing tax on democracy. Any organisation wishing to make its case to government or Parliament will first have to register and pay a fee to exercise its right to lobby. Is that desirable?.[14]

Adams adds that "Unlike some of the proposals that have emerged since last weekend from government and others, the PAC is not a knee-jerk reaction to unfavourable headlines. It is the product of careful and measured consideration over many months."[15] This sentiment is echoed elsewhere within the industry. Francis Ingham of PRCA describes Labour's response as "A shameful, utterly cynical response. One of the worst examples I’ve ever seen of naked politics dressed up as moral outrage." Similarly, CIPR's Iain Anderson argues that Labour "spun this as a lobbying scandal when there were no lobbyists to be seen". Tom Spencer from the European Centre for Public Affairs (ECPA) argues that any commitment to a statutory register "should not have been made on such a ‘shoot from the hip’ basis". Alastair Ross from the Association for Scottish Public Affairs (ASPA) suggests that Labour's proposal was "knee-jerk and misses the point". Charles Lewington of Hanover concurs that Labour's plan is "a knee-jerk reaction".[16] Several public affairs professionals do, however, back statutory legislation; such as Eben Black of DLA Piper UK LLP Global Government Relations and Chris Whitehouse of The Whitehouse Consultancy.[17]

Whereas Francis Ingham of PRCA argues that the Conservatives are "right in resisting the temptation to match Labour’s volte face", Alastair Ross from the Association for Scottish Public Affairs (ASPA) argues that the Conservative position "has changed with the public mood".[18]

Opinions inside the industry

Despite UKPAC favouring self-regulation, a ComRes poll of 285 public affairs practitioners published by Public Affairs News in June 2010, found that a majority of lobbyists now support a statutory register. Sixty-two per cent of respondents supported the statutory register, with 20 per cent undecided and 17 per cent opposed. Furthermore, of those polled, only 55 per cent were 'familiar' with UKPAC; with 53 per cent believing that UKPAC still has time to play a role within the industry. Commenting on the findings, the APPC remarked that:

[T]he results reflect the wide array of views among PA professionals and, indeed, APPC members. We believe that self-regulation works and that UKPAC has a vital role to play in extending transparency across the wider industry. Nevertheless, the APPC is not necessarily antagonistic towards a statutory system of registration.

The PRCA, on the other hand, responded saying that "We are loathe to be dismissive of any poll, but the picture it paints of industry enthusiasm for government action bears little relation to the reality we see. The simple, settled majority view of the industry is that self-regulation works."[19]

A poll of lobbying firms carried out by the APPC yielded similar results. While three quarters of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that self-regulation was working, the same proportion would support a statutory register - only if it included all lobbyists. While 64% of those polled agreed that a statutory register would be more effective than self-regulation, 83% were in favour of the ethics and activities of lobbyists being regulated by an umbrella body established by trade associations - rather than by a mandatory regulation introduced by the Government.[20]

Making concessions: a revised role for UKPAC?

The commitment to a statutory register become one of the concessions made by the Conservatives in securing their coalition with the Liberal Democrats.[21] On May 11 2010, a series of agreements was reached between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. With regard to political reform, the agreement document states that "The parties will tackle lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists. We also agree to pursue a detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding in order to remove big money from politics."[22]

As PR Week journalist David Singleton observes, UKPAC "is keen to exert influence over ministers' plans for a statutory register of lobbyists by coming up with the first detailed blueprint for such a scheme."[23] Accordingly, CIPR's Iain Anderson remarks that "It is good news that... UKPAC [is welcomed] as the statutory model."[24] In an interview with PR Week, Elizabeth France commented that her organisation's aim is "a smooth transition between the self-regulating approach and the introduction of a statutory register. That will require us to understand the scope of the register envisaged by the Government and to see how far we can reach agreement to anticipate it".[25]

Voluntary sector

In June 2009, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) dismissed UKPAC's proposals for a self-regulating lobby register; citing the fact that charities are different from organisations in the private sector and already regulated by the Charity Commission. The NCVO is, however, supportive of government proposals for a statutory register; proposals which are themselves to be based on the work of UKPAC. Chloe Stables, Parliamentary Officer of the NCVO, states that the NCVO will continue to work with UKPAC "to show how its register would impact on the Government's own plans, and now we will continue to work with it as it takes forward a statutory register". Leigh Daynes, Plan UK Director of Communications, disagrees with the position of the NCVO, stating "I'm not sure how a register would work, and we do have umbrella organisations such as NCVO, so we would want to avoid duplication and waste."[26]

Think-tanks

More recently, the debate has turned to the role of think-tanks within lobbying legislation. The blueprints developed by UKPAC as yet omit think-tanks from a statutory register. The (voluntary) register employed by the European Commission, on the other hand, features a sub-category for think-tanks; with 95 currently registered. However, as Public Affairs News journalist Ian Hall suggests, "the think-tank landscape is tricky to delineate, populated on its nebulous fringes by some organisations, alliances and councils that are little more than corporate front-groups"; nonetheless, the issue will have to be addressed at some point.[27]

Membership register

The membership register is not yet available. In June 2010, Labour MP for Wigan Lisa Nandy submitted a written question about the timeline of plans for the statutory register to the Conservatives' Mark Harper. In responding, Harper - who has ministerial responsibility for Political and Constitutional Reform - stated that "Ministers will meet representatives of the UK Public Affairs Council shortly to discuss how to create the most effective register, on a statutory footing. We hope to publish detailed plans in the autumn."[28] Following this, the Coalition Government published a report on July 27th 2010 outlining target dates for political reform. As part of its measures to improve transparency, the report indicated that the process to introduce legislation to implement a statutory register would commence on November 2011.[29]

Contact, Resources, Notes

Contact

Address: The Secretary
Willow House
Willow Place
London
SW1P 1JH
Website: http://www.publicaffairscouncil.org.uk/

Resources

Notes

  1. UK Public Affairs Council website, accessed 25.08.10
  2. PASC, "Lobbying: Access and Influence in Whitehall", First Report of Session 2008-2009, p64, accessed 25.08.10
  3. CIPR, "What is United Kingdom Public Affairs Council (UKPAC)?", accessed 25.08.10
  4. UKPAC, "Terms of Reference for the UK Public Affairs Council", accessed 25.08.10
  5. CIPR, "What is United Kingdom Public Affairs Council (UKPAC)?", accessed 25.08.10
  6. UKPAC, "Terms of Reference for the UK Public Affairs Council", accessed 25.08.10
  7. CIPR, "What is United Kingdom Public Affairs Council (UKPAC)?", accessed 25.08.10
  8. Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, "Tories alone in supporting redundant lobbying industry initiative", accessed 25.08.10
  9. Andy Jack and Jo Couzens, "Lobby-For-Cash Sting: Senior MPs 'Appalled'", Sky News, 21.03.10, accessed 25.08.10
  10. David Singleton, "APPC puts Labour on Spot", PR Week UK, 26.03.10
  11. David Singleton, "Lobbyists in frantic bid to save industry reputation", PR Week UK, 26.03.10
  12. David Singleton, "Lobbyists in frantic bid to save industry reputation", PR Week UK, 26.03.10
  13. PAN Staff, "Search kicks off for UKPAC's first chairman", Public Affairs News, 01.04.10, accessed 25.08.10
  14. PAN Staff, "Search kicks off for UKPAC's first chairman", Public Affairs News, 01.04.10, accessed 25.08.10
  15. PAN Staff, "Search kicks off for UKPAC's first chairman", Public Affairs News, 01.04.10, accessed 25.08.10
  16. PAN Staff, "Dispatches/Sunday Times exposé – industry reaction", Public Affairs News, 31.03.10, accessed 25.08.10
  17. Ian Hall, "Government U-turn in favour of statutory register slammed by lobbyists", Public Affairs News, 01.04.10, accessed 25.08.10
  18. PAN Staff, "Dispatches/Sunday Times exposé – industry reaction", Public Affairs News, 31.03.10, accessed 25.08.10
  19. Ian Hall, "Majority of lobbyists now favour statutory register, industry poll reveals", Public Affairs News, 02.06.10, accessed 25.08.10
  20. Simon Miller and Nikki Wicks, "APPC pledges to be 'proactive'", PR Week UK, 23.07.10
  21. Ian Hall, "Majority of lobbyists now favour statutory register, industry poll reveals", Public Affairs News, 02.06.10, accessed 25.08.10
  22. Conservative Liberal Democrat Coalition Government, "Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition agreements", 11.05.10, p4, accessed 25.08.10
  23. David Singleton, "Public Affairs: Register blueprint developed", PR Week UK, 16.07.10, accessed 25.08.10
  24. PAN Staff, "Dispatches/Sunday Times exposé – industry reaction", Public Affairs News, 31.03.10, accessed 25.08.10
  25. David Singleton, "Public Affairs: Register blueprint developed", PR Week UK, 16.07.10, accessed 25.08.10
  26. Matt Cartmell, "NCVO backs lobby register", PR Week UK, 09.06.10, accessed 25.08.10
  27. Ian Hall, "Will Westminster follow Brussels' lead on think-tanks?", Public Affairs News, 29.07.10, accessed 25.08.10
  28. Ian Hall, "Mark Harper MP to meet UK Public Affairs Council reps 'shortly'", Public Affairs News, 02.07.10, accessed 25.08.10
  29. HM Government, "Parliamentary Democracy and Political Reform", Draft Political Reform, 27.07.10, p6, accessed 25.08.10

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