Lobbying in the UK: Public Affairs wins Self-regulation

In September of 2009, the Conservatives in the UK announced they wanted to crackdown on lobbying firms.  The actions were triggered by cases of abuse and scandals about lobbying in the UK including the cash for access controversy.  Here is a comment from a news story:

“Francis Maude, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: ‘Greater openness and transparency is needed to help ensure high standards in public life. If the industry fails to self-regulate, it should be prepared for legislation which will ensure greater accountability.’”

The suggestionss include making lobbyists disclose their client and prohibiting public bodies from hiring lobbying firms to lobby the central government on their behalf.  In fact the word “transparency” was evoked. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/6215415/Tories-to-crack-down-on-lobbying-firms.html

Public relations became involved because many public affairs agencies are in public relations.  The Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) in the UK disagreed there should be formal regulation by the government but agreed there were problems and that secrecy contributed to those problems.  The PRCA saw the need for change as a call to get their own house in order—self-regulation.  They agreed that lobbyists acting unethically were harming the entire profession. 

“The reputation of public affairs is too often tarnished by the actions of a few unethical practitioners, who opt to remain unregulated, either because they cannot reach the standards that others attain, or because they wish to hide their client lists. As such, we welcome the Conservatives’ call for the public affairs industry to get its house in order. All PRCA members already publish their client lists and their staff make-up, so this proposal builds on the best practice we already represent.”

http://www.prca.org.uk/default.asp?sid=8&pid=496

On October 22, 2009, the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee issues the report “Lobbying:  Access and influence in Whitehall:  Government Response to the Committee’s First Report of Session 2008-09.”  You can review the full report at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmpubadm/36/36i.pdf

The first report at the start of 2009 called for regulation of lobbyists.  The report was viewed as a blow against transparency.  Francis Ingham, director-general of PRCA, viewed the report as an endorsement of self-regulation to address the problem. 

“The PRCA welcomes the Government’s recognition of our efforts to make self-regulation as effective as possible. We are also aware that this is the industry’s final chance to make this system work. Those who have buried their heads in the sand -and who are responsible for bringing us to the brink- need to extract themselves. And do so quickly.”

http://www.prca.org.uk/default.asp?pid=509&sid=8#i_addNew&adm=stp

People are left wondering how much is changing from the conditions that allowed the scandals and abuses such as government officials take significant freebies from lobbyists.   

Questions to Consider

  1.  How is this case a failure for the value of transparency in society?
  2. How does public relations look in this case as it argue simply for self-regulation?
  3. What does self-regulation really mean and how could it be used in this case?
  4. How does the government look in the case by reversing its stand on registering lobbyists?
  5. On the surface, what does this case suggest about the power of the lobbying industry in the UK?
  6. If you worked for PRCA, what other points would you have presented in response to the second report to more effectively frame the issue?
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