'What about councillors who lobby?' Comms boss calls for local transparency after criticism of MPs working for agencies

The boss of Cratus Communications has told PRWeek that there is a lack of transparency around the conflicts of interest created by local councillors working for lobbying agencies - while rejecting Mail on Sunday criticism of an MP working for his agency.

A Mail on Sunday piece yesterday focused on six MPs and peers who have worked for agencies involved in lobbying, despite what it calls "attempts to crack down on the controversial industry's access to Parliament". It said some had "asked questions in Parliament that could benefit their paymasters".

The article points out that the PRCA and APPC codes of conduct both forbid members from employing serving parliamentarians.

The agencies in question have all defended themselves - but one questioned why the two trade bodies and the broader industry are "not interested in being open and transparent about local government".

Cratus' local concerns

The Mail notes that Cratus Communications pays £278 an hour to former local government minister Bob Neill, a Conservative MP who sits on its board. The agency said he did not work directly with any of its clients, and said it had always been transparent about employing Neill.

Cratus CEO Nick Kilby said: "I am getting very irritated that we only talk about members of parliament - why don’t you care about who is in local government and works in lobbying? If we’re going to get fussy about who works for who, we need to be transparent about all forms of government."

"I wish people would care as much about other areas of government and its openness and transparency, rather than just chasing headlines."

Cratus employs one local councillor, Havering's Osman Dervish. This is listed on the firm's website and Kilby said that Dervish, a senior account executive, had a "veto", meaning he could prevent the firm doing any work in Havering if he saw it as a conflict of interest.

Kilby said he set up Cratus because he was "uncomfortable" about the lack of transparency in other agencies lobbying local government, saying many of his rivals did not provide the same level of disclosure.

'Growing disgust'

PRCA director general Francis Ingham told the Mail that it was "unethical and disgraceful for MPs to be lobbyists", while PRCA chair Paul Bristow said parliamentarians should never take a job with a lobbying firm. "It doesn't pass the sniff test - it stinks," he told the paper.

Ingham told PRWeek: "It is clear that there is growing disgust across the political sphere with the behaviour of some MPs who think it is acceptable to work as lobbyists. The fact that the PRCA, APPC and other bodies have been vocal in our dissatisfaction with such corrosion of the public’s trust has surely contributed towards this."

He also said he imagined there would be other "scandals and sting operations waiting to happen", and said he hoped these would "teach parliamentarians that they simply cannot operate on both sides of the fence".

Talking to PRWeek, Bristow agreed, saying: "I think that anyone who shines a light on these sort of conflicts helps to move this up the policy agenda. I would certainly hope that the Chair of the [Parliamentary] Standards Committee Kevin Barron would reflect on all this as part of his committee's deliberations about future reform of the MPs' Code. In the meantime, the APPC will continue to defend and promote responsible and ethical lobbying.

"It's even more important when stories like this are reported that we as an industry body make the distinction between the activities of our members', who are bound by our strict code, and all those who are not."

Five more in the Mail

The other parliamentarians listed in the Mail's article are:

  • Baroness Fall, a former adviser to David Cameron who joined Brunswick as an adviser late last year. She is listed as a partner on the firm's website. The firm said she did not do any lobbying or client work
  • The former Africa minister James Duddridge, who works for Brand Communications. The agency's director of public affairs defended Duddridge's position last month from PRCA criticism
  • Paul Scully, a Conservative MP who set up agency Nudge Factory in 2011, four years before becoming an MP. His co-founder has published a firm rebuttal of the Mail's piece on the agency's website, saying he is taking legal advice around its "insinuation", and that Scully has not worked for the firm since 2011
  • Labour MP Barry Sheerman and Lib Dem peer Lord Teverson both sit on the board of Policy Connect. Sheerman, its chair, has previously been criticised by the APPC and PRCA for his role, but argued it was not improper, as his firm was "the antidote to lobbyists"

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