At the beginning of the next century, one of Labour’s key
pre-election promises will become a reality when the 129 MSPs (members
of the Scottish parliament) take their seats in a brand new parliament
building in Edinburgh.
That the new legislature will have a profound effect on businesses and
organisations throughout Scotland, as well as those UK and overseas firms
who have just a nodding acquaintance with life north of the border, is not
As far as its impact on the lobbying industry is concerned, consultancies
are having to get into gear to deal with the devolved parliament. Many
London-based consultancies at the very most will nominate one person to
handle all devolution issue enquiries by clients.
While some major lobbyists - such as Burson Marsteller and APCO - continue
to focus on their European and international work and consider Edinburgh
to be of less importance at this stage, some public affairs specialists
are so convinced by the potential importance of Scotland that they have
recently set up offices in Edinburgh.
One is Westminster Strategy, whose Strategy in Scotland (to have called it
Scottish Strategy would have triggered a mutiny among switchboard
operators says managing director Michael Burrell) was set up last
’We took three gambles in setting up our Scottish operation,’ says
’One was that Labour would win the general election in May, the second was
that the Scottish people would vote yes to devolution and the third was
that the parliament there would be given tax-varying powers. I’m glad to
say that all three gambles have paid off.’
Robbie MacDuff is the managing director of Strategy in Scotland. He
believes that the traditional Westminster lobbying scene will be all but
turned on its head in Edinburgh for three key reasons: ’Firstly,
proportional representation is written into the system. There will be far
less whipping of MSPs than there is of MPs, and far more lobbying of
individuals rather than whole parties.
’Secondly, we are talking about a consultative chamber - one which is
information and technology-driven and one which will demand a far more
mature and responsible reaction than is often the case with
’Thirdly, Scotland is a huge opportunity for public affairs per se.
Although the country has a mature PR industry, public affairs is virtually
unknown north of the border. Our industry will begin there with a
virtually clean slate.’
While MacDuff says he is ’rather pleased that Strategy in Scotland has so
few competitors’ - GPC Market Access, PS Public Affairs and PPS being the
key players at present - he notes that other consultancies may be tempted
to ’do Scotland’ on the cheap.
’We have heard about several consultancies who don’t believe Scotland is
important enough to have its own office, but which are concerned not to
look as though they are ignoring Edinburgh altogether. Consequently they
are putting one London-based person in charge of Scotland. That will never
work.’ He adds: ’If you want to be taken seriously in Edinburgh you need
Scottish knowledge as well as a Scottish telephone number and e-mail
address. Anything less will look like an insult.’
While Strategy in Scotland has just three people so far, MacDuff is
confident that the start-up will naturally develop as more accounts come
His clients already include the Scottish Tourist Board, Scottish Airports,
Unison, North of Scotland Water and East of Scotland Water.
MacDuff makes the point that the Edinburgh parliament, in starting afresh,
has a chance to aim for the ’transparency and accountability’ in its
operations that has eluded Westminster in the past.
His view is echoed by Jane Saren, Edinburgh-born managing director of GPC
Market Access Scotland, set up just before Christmas 1996. Saren, who
heads a team of four, believes that ’Scotland offers us a chance to do
things differently and to genuinely understand and act on the principles
of Nolan.’ She adds: ’Being a single-chamber body, it’s to be hoped that
things will be right from the beginning.’
Like MacDuff, Saren -whose client list includes the Edinburgh Chamber of
Commerce and Enterprise - warns that consultancies expecting to wait until
the final moment before entering the new Scottish marketplace might find a
frosty reception: ’There is a real danger that people who wait until the
end of 1999 to set up a decent operation will look like opportunists.
While it is true that firms up here do need strategic public affairs,
there may well be some understandable resentment up here if that’s how the
London consultancies go about giving it.’
Shandwick in Scotland can’t be accused of opportunism - it has arguably
been the largest PR consultancy in the country for more than 15 years now,
employing 55 people in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow. Managing director
John Gerrie says: ’People don’t realise how strong an economy Scotland is.
It ranks alongside London and Frankfurt in terms of where Europe’s money
is controlled and it is also the oil capital of Europe.
’While we already do what I would regard as public affairs work for our
retained clients in Scotland, the Scottish parliament is going to expand
those opportunities greatly. And that’s why we will be hiring at least two
public affairs specialists for this agency before the end of this
Access to MSPs and the lines of influence are still to be established,
however. The Scottish Foundation says that the White Paper itself provides
’little guidance as to how the parliament will operate and what its
members will do’.
Craig Harrow - account director for PPS’ Edinburgh office, which was set
up in May this year - says that, in the initial stages, Scottish lobbyists
will work together and sit down with ministers ’to ensure that a structure
is put in place that is a benefit to everyone’.
In the meantime, Harrow is busy lobbying local government in Scotland for
clients such as Sainsbury and Railtrack as well as property developers
making planning applications.
While Westminster Strategy’s Burrell agrees that Scotland is causing
ripples of interest in London, the prospect of the Welsh Assembly, which
like the Scottish Parliament is due to open for business in January 2000,
has not evoked such a powerful reaction.
’Scotland not only has a far larger economy; but it also has the prospect
of a parliament with genuine legislative and tax-varying powers,’ says
Burrell. ’In comparison, the Welsh Assembly has been compared with a
glorified county council.’
The main consultancies offering a full public affairs service in Cardiff
(there are ad hoc individuals) are Lowe Bell Good Relations, Golley Slater
and Wales and Westminster, set up two-and-a-half years ago as a sister
firm to Cardiff-based Quadrant PR. With a client list that includes the
Cardiff Bay Development Corporation and CableTel South West, Quadrant
partner Peter Duncan says that the firm is expecting ’major growth in this
market over the next few years’.
He adds: ’Rather than being worried by people from London sniffing around,
we welcome it. The truth is that we are better placed than anyone else to
pick up the new business that will inevitably come with the setting up of
the Welsh Assembly.’
However, Mike Craven, managing director of Market Access, believes that
Wales will not see a major increase in lobbying work. ’Demand for
consultancy services will be slower because of the assembly’s powers
being so limited,’ he says. ’But in Scotland I truly believe that the
sky is the limit.
CASE STUDY: ATOC’s NEW TRAIN OF THOUGHT FOR LABOUR
Although Labour abandoned its railway re-nationalisation programme
before the general election, comments made by senior party figures both
before and after the May victory left the Association of Train Operating
Companies (ATOC) - which represents the 25 private train firms - in
little doubt that Labour would find it hard to love the private rail
Working closely with ATOC’s senior management, it was left to Westminster
Strategy to help position ATOC more in line with the new Government’s
thinking on such issues as the reduction in road traffic congestion and
the gradual increase in rail use; finding common ground on which the two
organisations could base future discussions.
Just after the election, Westminster Strategy helped ATOC to produce a
briefing for the new Government on the organisation’s work and
The briefing helped to lay foundations for a new partnership between an
organisation which had always had the support of the previous Tory
administration and a new Government that inevitably treated it with some
Early ministerial statements calling for more regulation of private rail
operators were handled with a series of ATOC statements making it clear
that over-regulation had its own dangers, while also paving the way for
constructive dialogue on a new regulatory regime.
ATOC’s urgent priority after the election was for face-to-face meetings
with the new Department of Transport team. Westminster Strategy arranged
briefings with Transport Ministers Gavin Strang and Glenda Jackson and
future sessions are, it says, already arranged. The consultancy says that
comments made during media interviews following the Labour Conference
debate on transport ’bear testament to this positive approach’.
While the privatised rail companies have come in for sustained attack by
the regulatory authorities, consumer groups and the media, Westminster
Strategy has worked with ATOC so that it responds to criticism effectively
- accepting that some criticism is legitimate, while rebutting misleading
or erroneous attacks.
Ivor Warburton, ATOC’s new chairman, and Jane Gordon, director general,
have been positioned as the ’constructive voice of the passenger rail
industry’, says the consultancy, and have been used by all sections of the
media including Radio 4’s Today programme.
Current work includes the preparation and rehearsal of an ATOC delegation
which is to give evidence to the inquiry of a House of Commons Transport
Sub-Committee into the proposed Strategic Rail Authority and railway
ATOC’s new prospectus ’Changing Trains’,produced with the help of
Westminster Strategy, has already been well-received by Ministers and
civil servants at the Departments of Environment and Transport.
CASE STUDY: SETTING UP CAMP WITH THE OTHER SIDE
As recently as two years ago, it was official Labour Party policy to
abolish the historic, but misunderstood Corporation of London.
Unimpressed by, and inexperienced in, the workings of the City the average
(Old) Labour backbencher considered abolition of the body which governs
the Square Mile - and which has rather more than its fair share of
glittering functions for the rich and privileged - as little more than a
fair tit-for-tat for the Tories’ culling of the peoples’ Greater London
Council some years before.
Alarmed at the rumours of its imminent demise, the Corporation hired
Shandwick Public Affairs to both explain the importance of its role to
Labour and to argue for its long-term retention.
’The fact that the Corporation runs the Barbican Arts Centre, Hampstead
Heath and other jewels in the crown of Britain’s cultural and social life
came as something as a surprise to Old Labour,’ says Colin Byrne,
Shandwick Public Affairs managing director, ’and it was our job to educate
the Party about its many important functions.’
’Once they learned that the Corporation also played an invaluable role in
marketing the City overseas, and ensuring, among other things, that London
remains one of the key financial centres of the world, the Party began to
look at the Corporation with new eyes,’ he says.
By the end of 1995, the then Opposition Leader Tony Blair was sufficiently
converted to the merits of the Corporation to symbolically give it his
blessing by addressing the massed ranks of the City establishment at a
packed Guildhall. It was a turning point in the relationship between
Labour and the money-makers.
In the final 18 months of Blair’s Opposition, says Byrne, the Corporation
of London worked closely with the Labour team on such issues as the
regeneration of London and the future of London Transport. As Blair and
Shadow Chancellor Gordon Brown sought to strengthen still further their
support in the City, talk of the Corporation’s abolition was quietly
Since they came to power, the Labour administration has notably
strengthened its links with the Corporation it once sought to destroy.
Says Byrne: ’They are giving valuable advice to Labour on a number of key
issues such as the future governance of London and the importance of the
’An organisation which was treated with great mistrust by Labour only
three years ago is now regularly canvassed for its opinions. Mistrust
has given way to mutual respect.’
CASE STUDY: TACKLING FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS
Early on in Tony Blair’s premiership, he indicated that he wanted to
simplify and speed up planning law. While Labour has so far not produced
detailed proposals on how it intends to reform the current regulations,
it is currently consulting local government experts and other interested
parties on how planning applications can be made more user-friendly.
Nick Keable, director of Policy Planning Services (PPS) believes that the
new Labour Government may well offer a more cohesive planning route in
future, but he also notes that with careful handling, sensitive planning
applications can already be guided through to acceptance.
American company Computer Associates - the second largest computer company
in the world in terms of business software - wanted to set up a European
headquarters in Datchet in Berkshire. But the problem it faced regarding
getting planning permission was that its two chosen sites , which were
adjacent, were a Ministry of Defence site which had a listed building and
parkland, and a Calor gas site - both in the green belt. It was also right
beside the village of Datchet which had its own traffic problems.
To counter these obstacles, PPS launched a large-scale public information
campaign which included exhibitions and leaflets as well as the lobbying
of parish, district and county councillors, local MPs, government
ministers, and MoD officials right up to Cabinet level. It also lobbied a
myriad of agencies which deal with inward investment, such as London First
and the Invest in Britain Bureau.
To deal with the traffic problem, PPS carried out a study on where
Computer Associates’ 500 staff lived, and worked out that the traffic
implications for the village of Datchet were minimal.
The crux of the campaign, however, was when PPS managed to ’massage the
planning legislation’, according to Keable, by adding the two sites
together to become one site so it didn’t matter where the buildings went -
as long as they weren’t near the MoD site’s listed building.
A key element was to ensure that the planning authority - in this case the
district council - was backing the proposal, and to make sure that Cabinet
pressure was brought to bear on the MoD and the Department of the
The deal went through and got unanimous planning permission last
This will bring a pounds 100 million investment into the region -
including extras such as the restoration of listed buildings and parklands
- and it saved 500 people their jobs, and the company avoided having to
relocate elsewhere in Europe.
Keable says: ’Careful planning and the shrewd identification of the key
people who held the power, and by bringing in the power to bear at the
right moment, was key to the success of the operation.’
WHITEHALL: KEEPING SERVICE CIVIL IN THE FACE OF UPHEAVAL
The ongoing war of words between Downing Street press secretary Alastair
Campbell and members of the Government Information Service (GIS) -
resulting in a series of high profile resignations - has caused much
debate over the claim that Labour apparatchiks are trying to politicise
the Whitehall information machine for their own ends.
But what do leading lobbyists think about the situation? According to some
consultancies, the so-called lessons in spin now being forcibly swallowed
by departmental press officers reflect a difference in culture rather than
a crude desire to force GIS members to plaster the media with good news
about Tony Blair.
Gill Morris, managing director of GPC Market Access, says: ’Most of the
new Ministers have never worked in Government before and are used to
looking after their own diaries, mobile phones and indeed lives.
’Some of them are rather intimidated by the knowledge that there is this
huge administrative staff, including press officers, just waiting to be
told what to do, and they aren’t sure how to play things,’ she says.
’On their side, the civil servants themselves are used to doing things in
the way that the last lot of Ministers wanted them done. After 18 years in
power, the Tory approach has obviously left its mark on the information
service and it’s going to take longer than six months for them to get to
grips with how Labour like things to be arranged.’
What no one appears to deny is that the Labour way of doing things does
appear to get results. During its 18 years in the political wilderness,
the Labour publicity machine seems to have learned how to manage the media
The prospect that Ministers and their media-savvy advisers should now put
away their feverish spinning wheels in favour of the more gentlemanly
publicity tools of the civil service is, as one junior Minister puts it,
’like suggesting that we should allow House of Commons switchboard
operators to dictate party policy’.
According to Colin Byrne, managing director of Shandwick Public Affairs:
’During the Tories’ reign, there was clear manipulation and politicisation
of civil servants, many of whom felt as if they were disregarded and
What we are seeing now is the desire to present policies clearly and
effectively to the electorate who gave Labour an overwhelming mandate to
act and to make changes.’
He adds: ’Alastair Campbell is a highly effective operator and, as far
as I know, members of the GIS are tremendously excited to be working