Lobbying row as PRCA withdraws from the UK Public Affairs Council

The lobbying industry's attempts to demonstrate it can regulate itself have been dealt a blow with the news that one of the founding bodies of the recently-established UK Public Affairs Council has walked out.

Francis Ingham: PRCA chief executive
Francis Ingham: PRCA chief executive

The PRCA today withdrew from the UK Public Affairs Council, and endorsed the Government’s decision to introduce a statutory register of public affairs practitioners.
 
The UK Public Affairs Council was set up in 2010 by the Association of Professional Political Consultants, along with the CIPR and the PRCA.
 
The body was established with the intention of dissuading the Government from pushing ahead with plans for a statutory register of lobbyists, by establishing a comprehensive and effective voluntary register.
 
Today’s development will be seen as a severe blow to the industry’s attempts to take a united stance against heavy-handed regulation by the Government.
 
The PRCA’s decision was immediately criticised by one member of the PRCA Council, Keith Johnston, who described it as ‘wrong’ and coming ‘at the worst possible time for the industry’. Johnston has now resigned from the PRCA Council.
 
In a statement explaining the PRCA’s actions, chairman Sally Costerton said: ‘For the past eighteen months, we have worked hard alongside our partners within UKPAC to find the best route forward for the public affairs industry. It is with regret that we have reluctantly concluded that UKPAC will not be able to deliver the statutory register that the Government has decided to introduce.
 
‘Thanks to repeated delays and inaccuracies in its work, UKPAC simply lacks the credibility and competence to meet the Government’s objectives.
 
‘We have therefore concluded that the register is best held by an independent body, and should include all those who work in public affairs – not just those employed in multi-client consultancies.
 
‘An independently-held register will support the self-regulatory procedures that are already established in our industry – the Professional Charter and Public Affairs Code of Conduct that our members abide by, and the equivalent Codes operated by other professional bodies.
 
‘We would now urge the Government to deliver such a register without further delay.’
 
Meanwhile, Johnston has written to PRCA chief executive Francis Ingham about the move.
 
Johnston is director of policy and communications at the Society of Trust & Estate Practitioners and a member of the PRCA Council.
 
His letter, seen by PRWeek, states: ‘I regret to inform you that I must resign from the PRCA Council on account of the PRCA’s decision to withdraw from the UK Public Affairs Council.  
 
‘This decision is wrong and, coming just days before the consultation paper on lobbying regulation, has come at the worst possible time for the industry. By doing this the PRCA has exploded the unity that has existed over the last three years
 
‘It is also wrong that, despite my membership of the PRCA Council and the PRCA Public Affairs Group, no consultation with members has taken place on this momentous decision.

‘It’s a shame that those critical of PRCA for its aggressively competitive strategy, and who feared it would lead to disunity, have been proved right so quickly.’

The CIPR also criticised the PRCA’s actions.

CEO Jane Wilson responded to the news: ‘This is a disappointing move by the PRCA and as far we know comes without any consultation with the board of UKPAC or the CIPR or APPC as joint founding bodies.

'The PRCA have set out their reasons, but we think the decision to quit UKPAC is a potentially counterproductive move, especially in the current circumstances.

‘The CIPR believes industry unity is the key to ensuring that the current negative impressions of lobbying in the media do not lead to over-regulation of our industry. On the eve of the publication of a consultation on a statutory register and in the light of events this week, this move means the industry voice will be less collective, which is highly regrettable.

‘As we have made clear in recent statements from CIPR, the lobbying profession has nothing to fear from a statutory register and the government should now get the consultation published and introduce one as soon as possible.

‘As a statutory register is looking increasingly likely, it has to be an open register that has no "good cause" exemptions and covers everyone who seeks to influence public policy, regardless of their motivation, on an organised basis.

'Further delay extends the current period in which ethical, professional lobbyists who operate to the highest of standards of transparency and disclosure risk being tarred with the same brush as unprofessional elements who bring the industry into disrepute.’

The PRCA is currently investigating Bell Pottinger, one of its biggest member agencies, following a complaint against the agency this week.

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