Row over lobbying register

Lobby register Whitehouse Consultancy boss sparks email controversy.

Launch event: The House of Commons
Launch event: The House of Commons

The new UK Public Affairs Council register has got off to a rocky start, with one senior lobbyist branding it 'dreadful' and calling for wide-ranging changes to achieve greater transparency.

The register went live at 23.59 on Tuesday, following a launch event at the House of Commons earlier that day. But just days earlier, it attracted fierce criticism in explosive emails from Chris Whitehouse, MD of The Whitehouse Consultancy.

The emails, sent to Helen Johnson, chair of the Association of Professional Political Correspondents, have been obtained by PRWeek. They are partially reproduced below, in edited form, along with responses from Johnson and Elizabeth France, chairman of UKPAC.

Whitehouse's first missive claimed a number of key details had been left off the register: 'Our agency's entry differs substantially in both content and format from our APPC register declaration ...

The Brussels office is omitted ...

The staff names are inaccurate ...

There is no distinction between paid and pro bono clients.' In total, Whitehouse listed 17 specific complaints.

His email was met the following day with a response from Johnson. It emphasised that the new register was not intended to replace the APPC register and suggested that the register had yet to be finalised.

Whitehouse also received a response from France on behalf of UKPAC, stressing that any data not on the new register was still in the public domain.

Yet the agency boss was not satisfied with either response. His final letter to Johnson described the new register as 'dreadful' and threatened legal action if his proposed changes are not incorporated into the new register.

A separate letter to France stated: 'To launch on 1 March a register which you know to be inaccurate and incomplete would be a most reckless action and risks bringing the entire profession and its attempts at self-regulation even further into disrepute.'

Speaking to PRWeek after the episode, France brushed off the legal threat and stressed the register was a work in progress. Johnson added: 'There may be others who share his view ... but it is hugely complex collecting all the data from a wide range of sources. I would be amazed if there weren't some technical glitches.'

THE UKPAC EMAILS EDITED HIGHLIGHTS

Sent by Chris Whitehouse

24 Feb 2011, 23:19

Dear Helen. This proposed UKPAC Register is profoundly disappointing. It is unacceptable that the new register should provide a lower level of detail and disclosure than the APPC register and it is obviously wrong that some of the information should be either incomplete or inaccurate. It must not go live in its current format.

Sent by Elizabeth France

25 Feb 2011, 13:02

Dear Mr Whitehouse. The register contains data provided directly by APPC and PRCA and therefore does not contain any data that are not already published. Any data that are not published by UKPAC are available on either the APPC or PRCA website. There are no grounds for suggesting we should not publish our register as planned.

Sent by Helen Johnson

25 Feb 2011, 13:21

Dear Chris. Can I reassure you that the UKPAC register does not seek to replace or supersede the APPC register which, as you rightly say, contains additional information. However, the UKPAC register - by definition - has to be appropriate to the needs of the PRCA and CIPR members as well.

Sent by Chris Whitehouse

25 February 2011, 13:35

Helen, I find the new UKPAC register absolutely appalling and have spotted many more errors overnight. All in all a dreadful start to a hope-for (sic) new era. If it is not corrected by UKPAC before the launch I will be instructing lawyers.

Sent by Chris Whitehouse

26 February 11:00

Dear Ms France. Whilst I thank you for your letter of yesterday's date, I am afraid it does little to answer the detailed concerns which have now been sent to you by separate email. To launch on 1 March a register which you know to be inaccurate and incomplete would be a most reckless action and risks bringing the entire profession and its attempts at self-regulation even further into disrepute.

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