Conservatives launch scathing attack on 'crass' lobbying by Luther Pendragon

The Conservative Party has slammed a 'crass' lobbying campaign by top public affairs firm Luther Pendragon.

Tory leader: David Cameron
Tory leader: David Cameron

The Tories lashed out this week after the agency mass emailed hundreds of MPs and candidates with a letter attacking the party's plans to scrap Home Information Packs.

The letter, sent on behalf of client the Association of Home Information Pack Providers, described Tory policy as ‘irrational and regressive' and accused the Conservative frontbench of having ‘chosen to ignore the many voices and reams of evidence'.

It also thanked Tory recipients for ‘your response to my earlier correspondence on Home Information Packs' - even though many had engaged in no such correspondence before.

The letter is understood to have been sent to every Conservative MP and parliamentary candidate in the country - including Tory leader David Cameron in his Witney constituency, and shadow housing minister Grant Shapps, to whom it referred in the third person.

An infuriated Shapps told PRWeek: ‘This is one of the most crass examples of public affairs I have ever seen from a lobbying company. Spamming parliamentary candidates with political abuse from a company email address hardly displays the intelligent political awareness that Luther Pendragon proclaim on their website.'

Shapps added: ‘Email has great potential to engage Parliamentary candidates with the public in the forthcoming general election. Yet the public affairs industry needs to realise that like poorly targeted, unsolicited press releases, email also has the potential to annoy and undermine the very issues you are championing.

‘Conservatives are happy to talk to the housing industry over our plans to scrap Home Information Packs, but personal, angry campaigns are not a great way to win friends and influence people.'

Luther Pendragon said it had recently resigned the AHIPP account because of ‘strategic and tactical differences', but was still seeing out the notice period.

Senior consultant Richard Gardner said: ‘Luther Pendragon took the decision to resign the AHIPP account a couple of weeks ago. This decision was communicated to the client earlier this month and we are honouring our contractual notice period. There were strategic and tactical differences on how to approach the campaign as we approach the general election.'

Meanwhile, partner Simon Whale stressed: ‘This email was sent out at the client's request. It was signed by the client and expressed AHIPP's views.'

Whale added that before being contacted by PRWeek, the agency ‘had already reflected on this, AHIPP apologised to those who took offence at the content and we concluded it would have been better if Luther hadn't sent it on AHIPP's behalf'.

PRWeek revealed last year that AHIPP had hired lobbying firm Quintus in a last-ditch attempt to shift Conservative opposition to Home Information Packs. Six months later, Quintus was acquired by Luther Pendragon.

The letter, signed by AHIPP director general Mike Ockenden, is reproduced in full below. It was sent from a Luther Pendragon email account on 19 February. The letter is believed to have been sent to all Tory MPs and parliamentary candidates - including those in Scotland, where Home Information Packs do not apply.

Independent agency Luther Pendragon was set up in 1992 and chooses not to be a member of the Association of Professional Political Consultants.



THE LETTER IN FULL

Dear XXXXXXX

Many thanks for your response to my earlier correspondence on Home Information Packs. Whilst I appreciate there is an established Party line on this issue, I am disappointed that you did not take the opportunity to review the evidence for yourself and come to your own informed conclusion. I hope you will consider this letter and take a personal stance on the issue.

Grant Shapps, the Shadow Housing Minister, believes that scrapping HIPs would be a popular and inexpensive manifesto commitment.  Having adopted a perceived vote winning policy in a neglected area, Mr Shapps has chosen to ignore the many voices and reams of evidence pointing towards the need for further reform through the development of the HIP product. Consumers, stakeholders across the property industry and the press are clear that the future of home buying and selling lies in Exchange-Ready products. These products reduce cost, delay and stress from the process of buying a home, and the removal of the requirement to produce a HIP provides an ideal opportunity to introduce them. Grant Shapps' refusal to introduce Exchange-Ready products is irrational and regressive.

A policy to scrap HIPs with no mandatory replacement will cause enormous short term damage to the housing market. Following the election of a Government with a commitment to scrap HIPs, homeowners will delay selling their home until they are scrapped. This would stifle any hopes of a long-overdue recovery in the housing market.

The market will also suffer damage in the long term. Before HIPs, the unavailability of reliable information and legal documents early in the home buying and selling process were the prime cause of stress, delay and abortive transactions, which cost consumers approximately £1 million every day. With this information provided in the right format, at the right time, and at the right price through a HIP, costs are kept down, transactions run more smoothly, and professionals like lawyers and estate agents are freed to carry out their specialist work.

Critics of the HIP claim that the searches included are not authoritative, and lawyers are commissioning their own searches. The most recent report by the Property Codes Compliance Board, which regulates property searches, showed that there were no differences in quality between the searches in HIP Code compliant HIPs and searches provided by the Local Authority. Critics also say that HIPs add cost to the home buying process. This is simply not the case, as the savings made through efficient search delivery outweigh the upfront cost of the packs. The reduction in the cost of moving home seen over the past two years has been as a direct result of the introduction of HIPs, and scrapping HIPs would increase costs once again.

Finally, Grant Shapps assures voters that he will retain the Energy Performance Certificate element of the HIP, as he accepts that it is a crucial tool in reducing carbon emissions. He has, however, ignored evidence from all other European Union member states that have attempted to introduce the EPC as a stand-alone document. In Northern Ireland, where there are no HIPs, 45% of houses are sold without an EPC, versus less than 5% in England. Indeed, in the rental or commercial property sectors in the UK, where HIPs are not required the levels of non-compliance are over 40% and 73% respectively. No member state has managed to achieve meaningful levels of compliance with the requirement to produce an EPC, except for states that require it as part of a HIP-style pack. There is no reason why the UK would be different.

Grant Shapps has ignored calls from the HIP industry, the Law Society, Which?, numerous estate agents and consumers, for further reform taking into account the progress made through the HIP. He has ignored his own research and consultation exercise, the 2007 Home Buying Review. This exercise, which sought to investigate the possibilities for further reform, was cancelled shortly after Owen Inskip, an independent expert, submitted his report. This has never since been released, despite repeated requests. Should he be elected, by the time Grant Shapps consults on his proposals, with the market in turmoil and jobs already under threat, it is likely to be too late to build on the achievements of the HIP.
                     
I hope you will give all of these issues your urgent attention. Grant Shapps intends to make a national election issue of his opposition to HIPs, but he underestimates the industry's ability to make the case for itself with voters. I hope, that having considered the issues, you will write to me outlining your own position on the issue.

Yours sincerely

Mike Ockenden
Director General
AHIPP

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