PRCA warns lobbyists on transparency after agency employing ex-minister omits declaration

The PRCA has issued a warning to members after PRWeek found discrepancies between two agencies' entries on the APPC and PRCA lobbying registers, one of which was in breach of the body's code of conduct.

You shall not pass - at least not to carry out lobbying services (Credit: Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock)
You shall not pass - at least not to carry out lobbying services (Credit: Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock)
  • This story was corrected on 16 September. See full details at end of story.

The two agencies in question are GK Strategy and Westbourne Communications.

The breach of the PRCA code was by GK Strategy. It has former government minister Phil Hope on its payroll, yet had omitted to indicate that he holds a parliamentary pass in its list of staff in the agency's details on the PRCA's public affairs and lobbying register.

The agency was contacted by PRWeek today. It has now updated its entry on the PRCA register. Agency CEO Emily Wallace said: "GK is fully compliant with the transparency requirements of the APPC [Association of Professional Political Consultants], PRCA and the Register of Consultant Lobbyists."

Another firm, Westbourne Communications, wrongly stated on the APPC register that one of its consultants - former home secretary Jacqui Smith, who joined the firm in February last year - held a parliamentary pass. This incorrect information does not appear on the PRCA register.

Since this story was published, Westbourne has told PRWeek that it will amend its APPC register entry, and has provided PRWeek with a statement in which the PRCA makes clear that Westbourne had not done anything wrong. This statement is reproduced in full at the end of this story.

Holding a parliamentary pass does not in itself constitute a violation of the PRCA's code of conduct, but the PRCA says passes must not be used for carrying out lobbying services, and should be declared in the interests of transparency.

The PRCA is treating both of these cases, highlighted to it by PRWeek, as an administrative oversight.

Nonetheless, it issued a reminder to its membership today on the need to make such declarations.

The email to PRCA members stated that they "must clearly indicate" among other things, whether employees are pass holders - and warned them against copying and pasting details from other lobbying registers' when filling out the PRCA forms.

In a statement to PRWeek, PRCA director general Francis Ingham said: "We are always very clear with our members about their commitments to transparency, the need to disclose, and the various exemptions that exist."

"There’s absolutely no suggestion of any misconduct, but we do need to ensure that members are behaving with the utmost transparency. To that end we will continue to remind members of their responsibilities. We always encourage members to err on the side of caution, and even those individuals whose activities do not fall under our broad definition of public affairs and lobbying should declare whether they are a pass holder."

In addition to Hope, there are two other parliamentary pass holders declared on the most recent APPC.

One is former Labour MP Kitty Ussher, who works for Portland. The agency's website says she "provides economic and policy analysis to Portland and its clients".

The other is Elizabeth Haywood, the wife of Lord Hain, who works for Cogitamus.

Mark Walker, chief executive, Cogitamus, said: "Since earlier this year Elizabeth Haywood has been a consultant for Cogitamus Limited and in the letter and spirit of the APPC rules we declared her parliamentary pass which she possesses by virtue to being married to a member of the House of Lords but obviously she never uses that in carrying out her duties for us."

At the time of publication, neither Portland or Westbourne Communications had responded to requests for comment by PRWeek.

  • This story originally said that Jacqui Smith held a parliamentary pass, based on the information on the Westbourne entry in the APPC register. Westbourne later contacted PRWeek to confirm that, as shown in public documents, this is not the case. The story has been corrected to reflect the fact that Westbourne's PRCA entry was in fact correct, while its APPC register entry was incorrect.
  • PRCA statement agreed by Westbourne: "Following recent reports in the media, PRCA would like to clarify that Westbourne is not infringing any regulations regarding Parliamentary passes for former MPs as we recognise that Jacqui Smith, chair of the Westbourne public affairs practice, does not have a parliamentary pass."

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