Post-APPC merger reaction: 'Time for unity, wider consultation and opportunity to improve governance'

PRWeek approached APPC members on both sides of the merger debate to gather their views on what the vote means for the industry and what should happen now.

Senior lobbyists have reacted to APPC-PRCA merger vote
Senior lobbyists have reacted to APPC-PRCA merger vote

Senior lobbyists are calling for unity, a reboot of the governance framework and wider consultation on how a new Public Affairs Board should be shaped, in the wake of a historic vote to merge the APPC and PRCA.

Campaigning leading up to the merger vote was often heated and, as one APPC member put it, "vituperative".

However, senior lobbyists across the board have urged APPC members to chart a harmonious way forward.

"I’m confident the overwhelming majority will act like grown-ups and unite to make it work," said Chris Whitehouse, chairman of The Whitehouse Consultancy, who publicly supported the merger.

"The most vituperative members may struggle to look some of their colleagues in the eye, given how they’ve spoken to them and about them, but I still expect an outbreak of ruthless harmony."

Gill Morris, chief executive of Devo Connect, told PRWeek the process has been "bloody and raw", but it’s now "time for collaboration and unity in the industry".

"For the 'merger' to work we need a proper consultation, which involves the wider industry – not just the heads of agencies, but all professional political consultants – so we can genuinely say there is a stronger unified voice," said Morris, who had previously backed the merger as "a step in the right direction".

Critically, she added, it’s about striking the right balance between a body that "looks and feel new and also protects what was good to outstanding in the APPC".

PRCA-APPC merger Q&A: process 'a mess' but 'this is in the best interests of our industry'

Maintaining high standards

Former APPC chair Michael Burrell, a merger opponent, told PRWeek he hoped merger supporters will now "work with the anti-merger minority to ensure that the new body adopts our 'gold standard’ code, independent complaints body and high-quality ethical training".

He added: "The new body will need to work hard to gain the trust and confidence of those who had concerns about the merger. To do that, it will be vital that it consults members fully about the way ahead."

Another prominent merger opponent, GPLUS partner and former APPC vice chair Emily Wallace, reiterated the calls for unity and to ensure the APPC’s high regulatory standards are maintained.

"The biggest challenge going forward will be to ensure that the new Public Affairs Board (PAB) bring current PRCA members into compliance with the more stringent APPC regulatory standards, requiring changes to employee employment contracts, code of conduct training for all staff and putting into place a new compliance regime for all members of the new body."

An opportunity to improve

In spelling out the benefits, Cicero Group executive chairman and past APPC chair Iain Anderson told PRWeek the merged body would provide a "stronger voice" and the increased scope of the APPC code across the sector, as well as more training and support for public affairs practitioners.

He added: "The government’s statutory lobbying register is unfit for purpose. The self-regulatory regime in the new combined APPC-PRCA register offers more coverage and more transparency. The new combined body should use its firepower to communicate anew to Government on the issues."

APPC members vote in favour of merger with the PRCA

However, Whitehouse said the formation of the PAB is a "long-overdue opportunity for fundamental reform".

"The Code of Conduct must police members’ behaviour, wherever in the world they operate; there should be an end to the anti-democratic practice of seats for life for all former chairs of the APPC; and there should be a complete ban on all Parliamentary passes being held by lobbyists, without exception," he explained.

A meeting to discuss the transition from the APPC to a merged PAB is due to take place next week.

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