Ministers' meetings linked to top Tory lobbying firm Quiller Consultants

Conservative ministers are holding frequent meetings with clients of a lobbying firm headed by one of Chancellor George Osborne's close friends.

Westminster: lobbying under the spotlight
Westminster: lobbying under the spotlight

With lobbying under the media spotlight, a PRWeek analysis has found that clients of Quiller Consultants are enjoying regular access to top Tories.

Huntsworth-owned Quiller is headed up by George Bridges, a friend of Osborne’s who helped run the party’s 2010 general election campaign.

Quiller also employs Stephen Parkinson, who used to prepare David Cameron for Prime Minister’s Questions, and Malcolm Morton, a former adviser to Cabinet Office minister Mark Harper. Quiller co-founder Jonathan Hill is now a junior minister in the Department for Education.

 

Meeting ministers

Departmental records show that five different Tory ministers agreed to meet with Quiller client the BSA, which lobbies on behalf of the outsourcing industry, in the first ten months of the coalition.

Yet when Vince Cable was asked by BSA chief executive Mark Fox for a meeting on 12 May 2010, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary refused. In a letter seen by PRWeek, sent on 28 May, Cable wrote: ‘I regret that I am unable to accept your invitation at present as my diary is already heavily committed.’

The City of London Corporation, the governing body of the City of London, had seven meetings with the Tory financial secretary to the Treasury Mark Hoban in the same 10-month period. The meetings include a breakfast and a dinner paid for by the City of London Corporation.

The corporation is currently heavily lobbying the Government to scrap the top 50p tax rate.

Migration Watch UK, a pressure group which campaigns for less immigration, held two meetings with Home Secretary Theresa May and a further two meetings with immigration minister Damian Green in the first eight months of the coalition.

In addition, May’s special advisers Fiona Cunningham and Nick Timothy have enjoyed lunch with Quiller.

 

Question of access

Whether these organisations would have the same access to ministers without agency help is a moot point.

Spinwatch spokeswoman Tamasin Cave said: ‘There’s a reason why companies employ Quiller and it’s for their close ties to the Tories at the heart of Government. These findings suggest that clients of Quiller are getting privileged access to Tory ministers.’

But the respected independent public affairs consultant and former CIPR government affairs group chair Lionel Zetter said: ‘I really can’t see a problem with organisations meeting ministers to press their case’.

PRCA chief executive Francis Ingham said ministers would be ‘negligent’ not to meet with relevant external bodies and stressed: ‘Listening is not the same as adopting  policy.'

Clients of other Tory-led agencies, such as Bell Pottinger Public Affairs and Hanover Communications, have also held numerous meetings with ministers.

However, the full extent of ministers’ and special advisers’ meetings remains unclear as no department has published records for any month more recent than March 2011 - despite the coalition’s pledge to regularly publish details of ministerial meetings.

Quiller did not respond to enquiries from PRWeek.

The news follows the Commons public administration select committee's announcement that it will start a new inquiry into the Government's progress towards a statutory register of lobbyists.

Also read: Industry figures fight back as politicians 'blame' lobbyists for Liam Fox scandal

 

 

WHO'S MEETING WHO?

 

BUSINESS SERVICES ASSOCIATION

1. Met David Willetts in November 2010 to discuss innovation

2. Met Hugh Robertson in November 2010 to discuss Olympic policy development

3. Met Mark Hoban in November 2010 to discuss spending review

4. Met James Paice in November 2010 to discuss country of origin labelling

5. Met Mark Prisk in January 2011 to discuss growth issues

 

CITY OF LONDON CORPORATION

1. Met Mark Hoban in June 2010 for a general meeting

2. Met Mark Hoban in September 2010 for breakfast (hospitality)

3. Met Mark Hoban in November 2010 for a general meeting

4. Met Mark Hoban in November 2010 for dinner (hospitality)

5. Met Mark Hoban in November 2010 to discuss international regulatory strategy group

6. Met Mark Hoban in January 2011 for catch-up meeting

7. Met Mark Hoban in March 2011 for catch-up meeting

 

MIGRATION WATCH UK

1. Met Theresa May in June 2010 for an introductory meeting

2. Met Damian Green in June 2010 to discuss the limit on migration

3. Met Theresa May in November 2010 for an update on immigration issues

4. Met Damian Green in December 2010 to discuss student visa consultation

 

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