The Institute of Economic Affairs produced some interesting research by Christopher Snowdon on how the state lobbies itself. The Government funds a charity which then uses the money to lobby for increased Government spending and regulation. They are known as “sock puppets”.
Eric Pickles, the Communities and Government Secretary has taken action to prevent this. He has stopped local authorities spending money on lobbyists. (Although there remains the scandal of the Local Government Association being funded with Council Taxpayers’ money, via council membership subs, to lobby for increased state spending.)
Mr Pickles has also stopped Local Enterprise Partnerships using their funds for lobbying.
Also the clause has been applied to those groups in receipt of grants from the DCLG:
“The following costs are not eligible expenditure: payments that support activity intended to influence or attempt to influence Parliament, government or political parties, or attempting to influence the awarding or renewal of contracts and grants, or attempting to influence legislative or regulatory action.”
I hope that other Government Departments will apply the same rule.
However the Labour Party have opposed these changes.
Lisa Nandy, the Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, put down a Parliamentary Question about it, prompting a robust response from Kris Hopkins, the Local Government Minister:
“Lisa Nandy: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, pursuant to the Written Statement of 23 February 2015, HCWS292, on protecting public money, what discussions he has had with the Minister for the Cabinet Office on implementation of his policies on government lobbying government, lobbying by sock puppets, lobbying by local enterprise partnerships and lobbying by local authorities.
Kris Hopkins: Ministers regularly meet Cabinet Office colleagues to discuss a range of issues.
More broadly, I observe that the. hon. Member has recently disagreed with the proposals in the Written Ministerial Statement, opposing the new measures which seek to ensure probity on how taxpayers’ money is spent.
I would simply note that nothing in that Written Statement prevents the voluntary sector campaigning using their own funds. It is reasonable however to ask that taxpayers’ money for specified projects is not diverted away from the commissioned frontline services or activity laid out in that grant agreement.
Prior to the inclusion of the new clause on lobbying, long-standing grant agreements already specified types of expenditure which were inappropriate, including entertainment, gifts to individuals and activities of a political nature. All grants are audited to ensure that they only pay for eligible expenditure. I would be interested to know if the hon. Member also opposes these existing checks and balances on the use of taxpayers’ money.
Moreover, documents published during the March 2010 Budget noted that Arms Length Bodies “must not use public funds to employ external public affairs or other consultants to lobby Parliament or Government with the principle aim of altering government policy or to obtain increased funding” (HM Treasury, Reforming Arm’s Length Bodies, 24 March 2010, p. 15; although the small print of a footnote watered down the substantive policy). Whilst I appreciate that HM Opposition may take a different stance now, even the fag end of the last Labour Government conceded the principle that there was inappropriate taxpayer-funded lobbying in the public sector.”
When I knew Miss Nandy she was a Labour councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham and also a “policy advisor” at the Children’s Society….
If Labour would allow taxpayers’ money to be spent on lobbying for the spending of more taxpayers’ money then it doesn’t inspire confidence in the prospect of a Labour Government eliminating the budget deficit.