Opinion: Why PE firms are bolstering comms

When the Financial Services Authority published a paper on private equity (PE) on Monday it stressed that it was setting the scene for dialogue with the industry, not putting out a blueprint for legislation or rule changes.

But does the industry really want dialogue? As PRWeek wrote last week (‘Private equity in public offensive,' 3 Nov), PE houses have no equivalent of public company reporting obligations. So traditionally they have had a tendency to never explain and never complain, asserting their right to be left alone.

The industry trade body, the British Venture Capital Association, has to some extent taken the same line. It has been very focused in its lobbying, working hard to get a hearing in Westminster, making the case for PE as an agent of change and a force for good. It has skilfully cultivated politicians across the house and Gordon Brown seems to be a fan.

Arguably, however, the body has done less to make the case for PE and venture capital to the wider public - although with political contacts like it has, it might be forgiven for thinking it didn't need to bother.

It often happens in sectors where there is a large gap between big, globally focused firms and small, regional or local players that interests and perspectives diverge, and there are signs that this is beginning to happen here.

The biggest firms have been rattled in the US by the launch of an inquiry by the New York Justice Department, probing allegations of collusion between houses in the conduct of takeover bids. Similarly in this country the industry's big players are hiring PR support, and the brief is no longer to keep them out of the papers. They now understand the need to engage in a way that smaller firms do not.

How the tensions between big and small will be reconciled promises to be very interesting.
anthony.hilton@haynet.com

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