PRCA probe into Portland dropped following Lord O’Shaughnessy exit

A complaint into the conduct of Portland has been withdrawn after the consultancy severed ties with its employee, Conservative peer Lord O'Shaughnessy.

Lord O'Shaughnessy

The Public Affairs Board chairman, Liam Herbert, withdrew the complaint he made about Portland in a personal capacity on 15 November after Portland confirmed to him that O'Shaughnessy was no longer working at the company and the consultancy was taking further actions to satisfy the lobbying self regulator.

Herbert told PRWeek: “I made the complaint as I believe it's essential that Portland and all of us in the industry take responsibility to behave in an ethical and transparent manner.  I understand that Portland has shown that this is the case and that they will no longer be working with Lord O’Shaughnessy. On that basis I am happy to withdraw my complaint against them.”

The PRCA confirmed the complaint has been withdrawn on its website. Details about what further actions Portland are taking to satisfy the PRCA and Public Affairs Board have not yet been made public.

A Portland spokesperson told PRWeek: "We are pleased that the complaints have been withdrawn. We regularly review our roster of advisers and we will be doing this again in the light of recent events. We will make any announcements on this at the appropriate time."

Herbert made the complaint following a Sunday Times report alleging a Portland lobbyist may have breached ethical codes when “secretly” serving as an adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) during the pandemic.

The lobbying industry's self-regulatory body was looking into whether Portland’s chairman, George Pascoe-Watson, and Portland consultant and Conservative peer Lord O'Shaughnessy breached parts of the PRCA’s Professional Charter and the PAB’s Code of Conduct.

The Sunday Times investigation claims O'Shaughnessy was being paid by Portland and the DHSC at the same time, and that he took part in a call with Lord Bethell and a Portland client – Boston Consulting Group – that has received COVID contracts worth millions of pounds.

In response to the allegations made last month, O'Shaughnessy said: “Earlier this year, I was asked to support the Government as part of the national effort to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, something I was proud to do. 

“This role, which involved providing policy advice to DHSC ministers and officials around testing innovation, was approved by the Permanent Secretary and declared in my register of interests. It did not involve responsibility for procurement decisions.”

Questions were raised earlier this year about O'Shaughnessy being listed as a lobbyist at a time he was advising the government. The listing was removed and blamed on an administrative error.

*Update: Portland initially declined to comment on this story but provided a comment following publication.

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