Lobbying stalwart Michael Burrell enters merger debate - as more detail emerges
The Westminster Strategy founder believes the merger plan has been badly handled and is doomed to fail.
Former two-time APPC chair Michael Burrell has waded into the debate over the proposed APPC-PRCA merger, saying it is “akin to trying to merge apples and oranges”.
In an article published by the ‘campaign for an independent APPC’, Burrell also attacks the APPC’s handling of the merger plan and criticises the current management for not forcing the PRCA to adopt the APPC code "in its entirety".
His intervention comes as the PRCA and APPC have now published their single proposed public affairs code for the industry along with a raft of other documents aimed at providing clarity and transparency on the proposed merger. According to the PRCA, the new public affairs code is “near-identical to the current APPC code”.
Burrell is founder of the legendary lobbying shop Westminster Strategy and a former public affairs chief at Edelman. His article states: "The very idea of a ‘merger’ between a trade association set up to promote the public relations sector and a self-regulatory organisation set up and led by public affairs practitioners to regulate the conduct of public affairs is, for me, akin to trying to merge apples and oranges. It is misconceived and very likely to end in tears."
Burrell also criticises the “sorry way that this proposition has been advanced… the complete lack of consultation”. On plans for a new code of conduct he, states: "One might have expected that APPC supporters of the proposition would have insisted on both the APPC’s code in its entirety and its wholly independent complaints procedure, but the memorandum of understanding offers only that the new body’s code would be 'based' on the APPC code – plenty of wriggle room there. As for the complaints procedure, we are only promised 'an independent element', whatever that might mean."
But unveiling the new code as Burrell's article went live, a spokesman for the PRCA said the proposed changes were limited to the following areas: references to “the APPC” will become references to “the Public Affairs Board”; references to “the APPC Management Committee” will become references to “the Public Affairs Board Executive Committee”; references to “political consultants” will become references to “public affairs practitioners”; and a rewording of the remit to ensure the code is not limited to UK-based institutions of government.
“The process for investigation complaints and the mechanism for taking appropriate disciplinary action remain independent and unaltered,” said the spokesman.
Alongside this, PRCA boss Francis Ingham has signed the ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ between the two organisations, ensuring that no changes can be made to the terms of merger before or after APPC members vote at their extraordinary general meeting in October.
He said: “Today, we are publishing the final pieces of detail, showing precisely how the new Public Affairs Board that would be created by an APPC-PRCA merger would work .Three separate documents set out: the new unified Code; the new unified disciplinary procedures; and the formal changes to the PRCA Memorandum and Articles of Association that lock in the new Code, the new disciplinary process, and the autonomy and status of the Public Affairs Board. In addition, I have also signed the MoU on behalf of the PRCA Board.
“In doing so, our aim is to leave nobody in any doubt about what they are voting for. This detail is set in stone -unamendable by the PRCA. It is now for APPC members to vote on merger from a position of absolute certainty on the shape and governance of the new body they are being asked to create alongside us.”
APPC chair Paul Bristow and PRCA director general Francis Ingham will be taking questions and participating in a discussion about the merger on Tuesday, 4th September. The event will take place Ellwood Atfield Gallery, 34 Smith Square with PAN editor David Singleton in the chair. It is open to APPC members, PRCA members and anyone else with an interest in the proposed merger.