Public Affairs: Soap Box - Chris Whitehouse, MD, The Whitehouse Consultancy

PRWeek reported earlier this month that the Association of Professional Political Consultants is reviewing the scope of its register in a move that could see public affairs agencies declaring fewer clients. This is a retrograde step that will not stand the test of time or the stress of scrutiny.

The proposal is to replace the requirement that agencies list all those clients to whom they provide political consultancy services, with a requirement to declare only those clients for whom they have had 'contact' with Government. A parallel change would drop the requirement to list all staff involved in the provision of such services and list only those who have had that 'contact'.

A switch to a test of 'contact' would define the requirement to register by the action taken rather than by the purpose of that action. It would drag within the proposed statutory register many other professions (lawyers, trades unions, charities) as well as in-house public affairs departments. That would be welcome.

But let's get real. The public, media and parliamentarians are not chomping at the bit demanding to know which charity is lobbying for what, or which solicitors are in touch with Government.

What they want to know, primarily, is the clients and the staff of lobbying companies. They want to know whom we are advising, for whom we are facilitating access, and to whom we are providing detailed advice on strategy and tactics. Any register that does not deliver that information will not meet the demand for openness and transparency.

Rather than undermine the requirement for 'commercial lobbyists' to register clients and staff, we should add the requirement that others having 'contact' with Government should also have to register.

Any other approach is disingenuous and will not deliver the reassurance that full declaration currently affords both the profession and the public.

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