Parliament's power players hide in shadows

The devil is in the detail. And for an organ such as PRWeek detail matters. It's really not that hard to goad a public figure into extravagant boasting, whether it's Tulisa 'of course I can score you some coke' Contostavlos or Tim 'told him what to say to the committee ho ho' Yeo.

Ruth Wyatt: 'There is a genuine lack of clarity about who leans in at the seat of power- only lobbyists are truly transparent about activities.'
Ruth Wyatt: 'There is a genuine lack of clarity about who leans in at the seat of power- only lobbyists are truly transparent about activities.'

I'm not defending either of them. Their actions are deeply dim and sadly predictable.

But nailing down the detail of who does what, where and how is a different matter.

When our readers come under a barrage of unfriendly - and unwarranted - fire, we believe in delving into detail. That's why, following the ongoing parliamentary standards scandal, we decided to investigate the extent to which public affairs professionals wield influence in and have access to All Party Parliamentary Groups.

Poring over public registers to gain an accurate picture of who the power players are was a time-consuming and painstaking job, but well worth the effort.

At first it produced a web of influence reminiscent of that famous experiment in giving spiders caffeine.

At last it illuminated the opacity of APPGs.

Our readers in lobbying firms may not welcome the results, but it would appear that those the Government seeks to rein in exert less power than charities, think-tanks and not-for-profit organisations. In fact, it is fair to say they are in the minority.

One think-tank, Policy Connect, holds more All Party Group Passes than all the professional lobbying firms put together. Charities hold the majority of APG passes.

Of the 388 APGs that use secretariats to assist with administration and facilitation of their activities, just 15 per cent engage professional consultancies. Charities and not-for-profit organisations account for 56 per cent of secretariats.

Some 109 APGs use secretariat services from organisations that are unclassified and - somewhat worryingly for those that seek transparency - think-tanks on one register can be classed as charities on another. Is that as clear as mud now?

The upshot of this is that while we have pulled together all the publicly available information and sifted it into something approaching an understandable form, there is a genuine lack of clarity about who leans in at the seat of power.

And the irony for those that seek to demonise public affairs professionals is that only lobbyists are truly transparent about their activities as they stand today.

ruth.wyatt@haymarket.com

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