‘Undeniable conflict of interest’: PRCA issues complaint against Tulchan’s Lord Feldman

The PRCA has submitted a complaint to the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards, alleging that Tulchan Communications managing partner Lord Feldman has failed to uphold ethical standards.

Tulchan MD and Conservative peer Lord Feldman is the subject of a complaint by the PRCA (pic credit: Getty)
Tulchan MD and Conservative peer Lord Feldman is the subject of a complaint by the PRCA (pic credit: Getty)

The complaint centres on what the PRCA described as a “conflict of interest” between former Conservative chairman Feldman’s role as an unpaid adviser to the Government earlier this year and his work for the lobbying agency.

Feldman acted as an unpaid adviser to health minister Lord Bethell – founder and former managing director of Westbourne Communications – for two months from late March.

In April, during his tenure as an adviser, the Government awarded a £28m contract to testing company Oxford Nanopore.

In June, a month after Feldman had ended his role as an adviser, he went on to provide consultancy services for the testing company on behalf of Tulchan, the PRCA said.

Neither Tulchan nor Lord Feldman are PRCA members, and they are not signed up to its Public Affairs Board (PAB) code of practice.

The PRCA has no powers to investigate a non-member, which is what led it to submit its complaint to the Lords’ standards commissioner.

'Unacceptable'

Commenting on the reasons for the complaint, PAB chair Liam Herbert said: “It is entirely unacceptable for lobbyists to use influence and relationships gained through public-serving roles for commercial gain. The conflict of interest is undeniable.”

Herbert added: “This behaviour brings the industry into disrepute and damages trust in our profession at a critical time for our country.

Tulchan responds

In a statement, Tulchan said it “completely rejects the basis of the PRCA’s complaint” and added that “Lord Feldman also utterly refutes any suggestion that he has failed to uphold ethical standards”.

Tulchan said it was a matter of record that Feldman had applied for and was granted ‘Leave of Absence from the House of Lords in June, which meant “there cannot have been a conflict of interest between his work at Tulchan and his role in the Lords, as alleged by the PRCA”.

Tulchan explained that when he was asked by Lord Bethell and health secretary Matt Hancock to act as an unpaid adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care, Feldman agreed and asked Tulchan’s senior partner, Andrew Grant, for a “partial leave of absence”, which was also granted.

ORCL

Tulchan said that, following media reports about Feldman and Oxford Nanopore, it had provided The Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists (ORCL) “with a full account of the events” and claimed that the statutory body had exonerated it of carrying out “undeclared lobbying”.

Tulchan said it expected ORCL to publish the judgement on its website but, at the time of publication, no such statement had been made public.

An ORCL spokesperson told PRWeek: "An investigation took place last week, regarding the accuracy of a Quarterly Information Return submitted by Tulchan Communication LLP. The investigation has now concluded and the Registrars decision will be published on the website shortly."

'Unethical lobbying'

Herbert said the complaint came at a moment when there had been “a number of disturbing reports regarding unethical lobbying activity” and he reminded PAB members of their “ethical obligations”, warning that breaches of the PAB’s code would be taken “very seriously”.

The news comes after the PAB and PRCA launched investigations after a complaint was lodged that a Portland lobbyist may have breached ethical codes when “secretly” serving as an adviser to the DHSC during the pandemic.

The twin investigations into Portland are understood to be in their early stages, during which the respondent to the complaint has five working days to provide an initial written submission.

In September, it emerged that several public affairs and political communication agencies, including Hanbury, Public First and Topham Guerin, had been awarded contracts worth about £5m without competitive tenders under emergency procurement rules set up by the Cabinet Office during the pandemic.



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