David Hencke, the paper’s Westminster correspondent, is understood to be using the Freedom of Information Act to extract information from a range of public sector bodies about their use of lobbying agencies.
Hencke was the reporter behind the ‘cash for questions’ scandal that rocked the lobbying world in 1994. He also revealed ex-cabinet minister Peter Mandelson’s secret £373,000 home loan in 1998. Hencke is understood to be working with fellow investigative reporter Rob Evans on the lobbying story.
Minutes from a recent meeting of the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) show that lobbyists are nervous about the investigation. The minutes state: ‘Members noted the recent FOI enquiries being made by The Guardian about public sector clients; while the purpose was not clear, the outcome was unlikely to be positive.’
One senior public affairs source said The Guardian had ‘thrown its net very wide’ but was not clear about what it was looking for. One possibility is a story about the amount of public money public sector bodies spend on lobbyists. Such a story could damage the industry – even though it may not expose any wrongdoing.
The source said: ‘They’re really on the wrong track if they think there’s something fundamentally inappropriate about a public sector body working with a public affairs consultancy.’
The investigation is not expected to be published for weeks, possibly months, due to the large volume of information being gathered.
Three damaging stories emerged on the eve of the Labour Party conference. The APPC will decide what action to take against two of the agencies involved – Edelman and Burson-Marsteller – at a meeting on 15 October.