Conservative Party accused of 'hypocrisy' over annual conference sponsors

The Conservative Party has opened itself to accusations of hypocrisy from PR chiefs, by allowing numerous public bodies to sponsor events at its annual conference.

Big event: 2009 Tory conference
Big event: 2009 Tory conference

Organisations including London 2012, Westminster City Council and Thames Gateway Parliamentary Group have booked 'hosting' packages at the party conference in Birmingham in October.

The news follows a series of attacks on public sector lobbying by top Tories. Most recently, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles pledged to crack down on councils' use of PR and public affairs consultancies, describing it as an 'outrageous waste of taxpayers' cash'.

Wolfstar MD Stuart Bruce said: 'It's rank hypocrisy of the Tories to be on one hand condemning public sector organisations for paying consultancies to provide public relations and public affairs counsel, yet to then rake in thousands of pounds from the very same organisations to attend their conference.'

PRCA chief executive Francis Ingham noted: 'As a shadow minister, Eric Pickles made his name on candour and straight talking. It would be a great pity if his name as a cabinet minister was always tarnished by charges of hypocrisy.'

Event hosting packages for the 2010 party conference start at £250 excluding VAT. Other local public service-funded bodies that have booked packages include the National Association of Local Councils, Leeds City Region Partnership, Birmingham University, the Association of North East Councils and Birmingham Science Park Aston.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said the department had instructed public bodies not to spend money on stalls at party conferences, adding: 'The Government intends to publish a revised Code of Conduct on Local Authority Publicity that will tackle the issue of lobbying by local public bodies, establishing clear and transparent guidelines on what is and is not acceptable practice.'

The Conservative Party had not responded as PRWeek went to press.

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