Public spat over Tulchan hiring Ruth Davidson MSP is unfortunate and unnecessary

This was supposed to be a good week.

We were trying out the ultimate ‘work from home’ experiment as everyone at Tulchan had to work remotely as our offices underwent a complete refurbishment; we had a brilliant new website and branding to unveil; we were looking forward to announcing two new senior advisors; and I was going to be at home for half term.

Instead of which I found myself standing in the kitchen of my dear 87 year-old father, explaining to BBC Scotland why I would not be able to accept their invitation to film an interview. So what happened?

The working from home is going well, the refurbishment is on track and we did announce two new senior advisors to Tulchan – One, James Cameron is a brilliant lawyer and expert on climate change and the evolution of that whole international debate.

The other, Ruth Davidson MSP, has proved a little more controversial. This has, in great part, been driven the a statement from the PRCA condemning her appointment. I have no wish to have a public fight with our industry trade body, but I also think their criticism is undeserved and deserves a proper response.

Tulchan’s history is not as a lobbying firm. In the very broad church that makes up this industry we have always been at the investor relations/financial communications end of the spectrum, advising boards on their capital market communications and M&A transactions.

In recent years that has evolved as boards, and their directors of communications, have become increasingly focused on managing their reputation with a broad range of stakeholders and communicating their purpose alongside their profits.

We have adapted our service in response, but this has taken on a significant new energy since Andrew Feldman became Tulchan’s managing partner. He is determined that we should have the expertise and capability to lead the advice to clients at the most senior level on how they should navigate this new reputational challenge.

Campaigning

Business leaders now need to think about campaigning for their licence to operate as a daily state of mind, much like a politician. However if they are to do so effectively,they need to understand the landscape that they have to navigate and the context in which they are operating.

This is why we are delighted that Ruth Davidson has agreed to become a senior advisor.

As a politician she has shown her ability to engage, empathise and win the support of a much wider range of society than almost any other modern politician. She has done this because is she authentic, passionate, and principled. She is also a brilliant campaigner and she believes absolutely that the corporate sector has to radically rethink how it engages with their stakeholders and society.

We think the boards of our client will benefit from hearing her experiences and, judging from the response of our clients there is huge interest in meeting her and hearing her views. For the record, both Tulchan and Ruth are in complete agreement that she would never undertake any work that could be construed as lobbying. This has been enshrined in the legal terms of her contract as a senior advisor and it was agreed before the conversations about her taking this role even started.

So why the public spat? Frankly I think it is both unfortunate and unnecessary. What is more, the PRCA statement creates, at its heart, a deep conflict between what the PRCA says and how it acts as a "regulator."

Its statement is unequivocal and states that "PRCA members are prohibited from employing parliamentarians".

However a brief look at the PRCA Board shows that Steffan Williams’ firm Portland employs the former minister Baron James O’Shaughnessy. Ed Williams has Lord Myners as the chairman of Edelman UK. Teneo is listed as a member of the PRCA and they have William Hague, Baron Hague of Richmond, as a senior advisor. Try as I might I can find no press release from the PRCA condemning these roles and appointments.

I think these firms should employ these peers, they are all men of great wisdom and high integrity, but I also think the PRCA are wrong to make the public criticism of Tulchan.

Membership

This is especially so as we are not members of the PRCA. Soon after we appointed Andrew Feldman as a senior advisor to Tulchan, and well before there was any prospect that he might become our managing partner, we looked at this rule and concluded that as we were in breach of it we had to cease to be a member.

I do care about the standing and reputation of this industry. I have spent 30 years in it and I know that in that time I have made many mistakes and missteps. I passionately believe that the best way we can improve its reputation, and attractiveness as a place for people to come and work, is to give advice of the highest quality, hire and develop great people, win the confidence and trust of our clients, act with integrity and bring new talent with fresh and valuable perspectives into our industry at every level.

That is what we are trying to do at Tulchan and I believe that it is a view shared by almost every serious business in our industry. In my view, the willingness of people of the quality of James and Ruth to come and be part of our industry is something that should be welcomed by the industry as a whole.

Andrew Grant is founder and senior partner at Tulchan

PRCA director general Francis Ingham has issued a statement in response:

"Andrew is simply wrong. The rules of the PRCA Public Affairs Code are clear, and the companies he cites abide by them fully, and always have done. There is a clear difference between peers occupying internal advisory positions, and elected politicians working in client-facing roles.

"The peers Andrew names have internal advisory roles at board-level; they are contractually prevented from undertaking any lobbying work; and - crucially - they have no engagement with clients. 

"That is not the case with Tulchan’s appointment of Ruth Davidson. As their statement welcoming her says, they 'have no doubt that our clients will benefit immensely from her insight'. 

"It remains our clear judgement that for a lobbying firm to appoint a currently-sitting, elected MSP to a client-facing role is simply unconscionable. Ruth Davidson should choose between being an MSP and being a lobbyist. She cannot be both."

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