Iain Anderson: Hats off to the lobbying tsar

Written by Iain Anderson on 3 September 2015 in Opinion

We are finally seeing the green shoots of real progress on the lobbying register

The Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) has long been critical of the Government’s Lobbying Act and the flaws inherent within the statutory lobbying register.

However, as we continue to gear up to the new regime, APPC has been continuing to engage with the Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists (ORCL) and I’m pleased to report that a great many of the issues that we and our members have been concerned about are being taken seriously by Alison White and her team.

Over the summer ORCL has been open in engaging with potential registrants – making a concerted effort to offer counsel and advice about the new system, in an attempt to clarify the grey areas flagged by APPC. Registrants need clarity on their responsibilities and must feel able to seek clarification directly with ORCL – and we’re now seeing this openness in a number of key respects. 

In our recent response to the consultation on compliance, we proposed that ORCL should focus its attention on those organisations that have not yet joined the register.  

We have consistently argued that the register should include law firms and management consultancies acting in that capacity. We’re now seeing some real progress in this respect, which we commend. 

In fact it’s clear that Alison White, the Registrar, is incorporating many of APPC’s key recommendations into her approach. She’s embracing common sense suggestions, for example, while the register looks set to be light-touch, it will also address the issue of “nil returns” after three successive quarters.

What’s more ORCL has pledged to work with registrants who have over-declared their clients to resubmit correct entries. It feels as though the collaborative approach we’ve long argued for is coming to fruition.   

We’ve consistently argued that the statutory register will only help to improve transparency if it sign-posts which registrants adhere to industry codes of conduct. So it’s encouraging that ORCL recognises the value of independent codes of conduct like APPC’s.

At a recent meeting with Alison White we pointed out that a number of registrants declared adherence to an in-house code and asked how ORCL was assessing the relevance of these codes of conduct, which, in APPC’s view, should include real independence and enforcement. Proper governance if you like. We’re reassured that ORCL plan to address this issue in due course and will work with APPC to help check registrants’ statements on membership and codes. 

APPC will continue to work with the Registrar during this crucial phase of implementation and will be meeting ORCL again soon, as part of a series of agreed quarterly meetings. 

We’ve got the open dialogue we’d hoped for, we’re seeing genuine progress on the issues that have been concerning our members and I’m confident that we’ll make the best of the new statutory register. However flawed – this is real progress.

 

Iain Anderson is chairman of the  Association of Professional Political Consultants.

 

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