Monday, 24 June 2013


This blog has already considered the proposed successor to the East Devon Business Forum: 
Futures Forum: East Devon Business Group

And this evening, the District Council's Overview & Scrutiny Committee's TAFF on the EDBF meets to take matters further:

It has remained highly controversial as to what the 'scope' of the OSC's TAFF should be, but all parties agree that one area should indeed be that of 'lobbying'. 

How would you define 'lobbying'? 
This is the District Council's definition:

A definition of lobbying is: “in a professional capacity, attempting to
influence, or advising those who wish to influence, the United Kingdom
Government, Parliament, the devolved legislatures or administrations,
regional or local government or other public bodies on any matter within
their competence”.
In January 2009 the House of Commons Public Administration Select
Committee published a report 'Lobbying: Access and Influence in
Whitehall' which noted, amongst other findings, that:
“The practice of lobbying in order to influence political decisions is a
legitimate and necessary part of the democratic process. Individuals and
organisations reasonably want to influence decisions that may affect
them, those around them, and their environment. Government in turn
needs access to the knowledge and views that lobbying can bring.”

In other words, lobbying is essential for informing debate, whether locally or nationally. 
Devon MP Sarah Wollaston speaks out:

Lobbying is not a dirty word
The recent scandals should not deflect from the fact that most lobbying does not distort but informs parliamentary debate
The sun sets behind Britain's House of Commons and Big Ben
'Lobbying is core to the work of MPs, and it is a great shame that it has acquired its dirty raincoat image.'
 Photograph: Kieran Doherty/Reuters

guardian.co.uk, Monday 10 June 2013 

I have a confession to make; I've been living with a lobbyist. He is an NHS psychiatrist who provides advice on a range of mental health issues to all political parties on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
It gets worse; I spent much of the day on Sunday with the volunteers for Devon Rape Crisis on behalf of whom I shamelessly lobby government as a proud patron, unpaid of course.
What's more, in the past seven days I have been meeting with the Equality and Human Rights Commission as I am also secretary of an all-party parliamentary group on human rights.
For completeness, I should also state that I lobby locally and nationally on a number of issues as the treasurer of the all-party cycling group.
The point is that lobbying is core to the work of MPs, and it is a great shame that it has acquired its dirty raincoat image. In the past few weeks I've been lobbied by teachers, wildlife campaigners, those resisting wind turbines as well as those in favour. I've visited local businesses, schools, colleges, hospitals, GP surgeries and libraries and every one of those meetings involve being lobbied. I will certainly lobby on their behalf, often arranging meetings with ministers or tabling questions or speaking in parliament.
It is worth remembering that lobbying takes many forms and from many sources, and the vast majority of it informs debate rather than distorting it for financial gain.
On a final note, a local fisherman came to see me in a constituency surgery recently and as he was leaving, presented me with three bags of mussels. They were delicious but should I have caused great offence and huffily refused them as a possible risk to my impartiality? It really doesn't happen very often but I should also declare that I've been similarly lobbied with a jar of honey, a garden cutting and a number of novels?

And at a County level, for example, the Federation of Small Businesses sees one of its primary roles as lobbying for its members:


Devon - Federation of Small Businesses - FSB - UK small business support organisation
Google Calendar


Our lobbying arm - led by the Westminster Press and Parliamentary office - applies pressure on MPs, Government and Whitehall and puts the FSB viewpoint over to the media. The FSB also has Press and Parliamentary Offices in Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast to lobby the devolved assemblies. Development Managers work alongside members in our regions to further FSB influence at a regional level.

And at local level, campaigning organisations often see themselves as 'lobbying',  for instance in Talaton, East Devon:

Right from the start, the organisers (Talaton Residents Association Group (TRAG) ) made it clear that they want to work with the Parish Council, from whom they sought “support, vision and leadership”. They see themselves as a focus for communication and lobbying in the face of overdevelopment plans. They are in favour of evolution within the village,  without the need for an unsustainable scale of building.

However, following local and national scandals, the issue of 'what is lobbying' needs clarifying. 
Again, from the District Council:

The Council’s view of the East Devon Business Forum
Members received a list of some of the appointments that had been to Joint Bodies
by the Annual Council on 23 May 2012. 
Councillor Mike Allen was of the view that the important thing was what was done in
the future and that the objection of a new Forum for Business was to interact with
business. He considered that it was acceptable to have overt lobbying. It was
important to spend public money effectively. Councillor Claire Wright wished to take
issue with the Council’s definition of lobbying contained on the agenda. She
considered that EDDC needed to define better how lobbying was taking place.
During discussion the following points and questions were noted:
 An issue was that EDBF was a joint body of the Council and included people
who stood to gain from lobbying;
 In some ways it was useful for bodies to lobby the Council as long as this
lobbying was open and transparent;
 It would be useful to establish a group to define what was acceptable
lobbying within the Council.

Sidmouth Independent News has sought to put the District Council's definition of 'lobbying' into context:

We now  quote below some OTHER paragraphs from the same document:
… Lobbying should be—and often is—a force for good. But there is a genuine issue of concern, widely shared and reflected in measures of public trust, that there is an inside track, largely drawn from the corporate world, who wield privileged access and disproportionate influence. Because lobbying generally takes place in private, it is difficult to find out how justified concerns in this area are. This is why there have been demands for greater transparency, and why lobbying has been regulated in a number of jurisdictions, generally through registers of lobbyists and lobbying activity. A further issue of concern related to access and influence is the transfer of staff in both directions between Government and (predominantly) the business world—the ‘revolving door’. 


Rather a strange agenda, never seen anything quite like it.  An agenda usually just lists the items to be debated and does not go into detail about them, particularly when that might influence the debate itself.  But, it is what we have and what we must work with.

In particular, the public should, if there is the will, research the real meaning of what as”joint body”really  is.  It is a statutory term about the relationship between a council and other bodies, such as the National Health Service and other local authorities or the police and fire authorities and is NOT a relationship between a council and a lobby group – a lobby group which it funds 100% and on which several of its own councillors and at least one of its officers wear other (significantly worrying) hats.

The point of a Business Forum is NOT purely to lobby a council but to encourage economic prosperity for ALL businesses in the area, not just a favoured (and subsidised) few with easy access to councillors and officers for them and no access to councillors and officers for others.  Lobbying should be a by-product of their actions for such economic prosperity not the sole purpose of their existence.  Strip out planning issues and issues where its members have a financial interest from their agendas and minutes and we have precious little else for EDBF to lobby the council about!

And here is independent District Councillor Claire Wright's perspective on 'lobbying' from another Committee's proceedings:

At Tuesday’s (18 June) Standards Committee meeting, an officer took the committee through key elements of the new guidance, which was published in April, by the Planning Advisory Service and Local Government Association.
The first issue the officer drew the committee’s attention to is set out on agenda page 28, which referred to committee members or ward members speaking on behalf of lobby groups.  See link to agenda papers here - http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/combined_standards_agenda_180613.pdf
The guidance advises that councillors speaking on behalf of lobby groups should withdraw from the meeting once any public or ward member speaking opportunities had been completed “in order to counter any suggestion that members of the committee may have been influenced by their continuing presence.” 
The officer advised that this may mean going beyond the practices that EDDC currently operates.
Cllr Alan Dent asked whether this meant if he was speaking up for residents, did that mean he was speaking on behalf of a lobby group?
The officer replied that this was a “matter of judgement.”
Committee chairman, Cllr Graham Godbeer, said he thought that this would only apply if the councillor was actually appointed to speak on behalf of a group.
The officer turned to agenda page 24 of the guidance, which contains the paragraph that states:  “Officers and serving councillors must not act as agents for people pursuing planning matters within their authority, even if they are not involved in the decision making on it.”

However, this concern is not limited to independent news blogs and independent Councillors. 
The Daily Telegraph's investigative journalists also considered it an issue worth delving into: 

Video: 'If I can’t get planning, nobody will' says Devon councillor and planning consultant - Telegraph
Councillors for hire who give firms planning advice - Telegraph
Telegraph exposes councillors lobbying for planning development | Local Government 

And other investigative journalists have taken the matter further. 
Anna Minton [Futures Forum: Public Space] considers 'the local lobby and the failure of democracy' in her latest report:
New report: Scaring the living daylights out of people
www.annaminton.com/Scaring The Living Daylights March 27th 13.pdf; 
New report: Scaring the living daylights out of people

SpinWatch report on lobbying, includes East Devon

Investigative journalist Anna Minton’s report published today, includes her research on the East Devon Business Forum. SpinWatchlobbyingreport.pressrelease
More about  Anna Minton, and about SpinWatch, at these links:   http://www.annaminton.com/about.htm   and   http://www.spinwatch.org
Of special interest in the report, is the item entitled ‘Local Mafia: Conflicts of interest in East Devon’. See today’s post at http://sidmouthindependentnews.wordpress.com

SpinWatch report on lobbying, includes East Devon | Save Our Sidmouth

It's a national problem:
Lobbying Transparency - Home 
which isn't going to go away:

Too many MPs are wrapped in the tentacles of the lobbyists
The Patrick Mercer affair is just one small symptom of a much bigger and insidious subversion of democracy

The Observer, Sunday 2 June 2013

The pungent smell given off by the whole business also feeds public cynicism about how government works that swells voter alienation, anger and disengagement.

Legislation on this opaque nexus between government and money was promised in the original coalition agreement between the Tories and the Lib Dems and again in their midterm review. Yet nothing has been delivered and time is running out in this parliament to get anything done.
What was pledged was a statutory register of lobbyists and more transparency about their interactions with ministers. As the Commons public administration select committee argued, when it proposed a statutory register in a comprehensive report published four years ago: "There is a public interest in knowing who is lobbying whom about what."

That would help, though we shouldn't be under any illusions that this would be a total panacea. You can't legislate against the most insidious form of lobbying, which works through private networks of party donors, chums and ex-ministers: "the quiet word in your ear" that Mr Cameron once spoke about. To expose that, we will continue to rely on the resourcefulness of investigative journalists. More power to their undercover elbows.

But national concerns meet local:

Lobbying …..


6 Responses to “Lobbying …..”

  1. Treacle MinerJune 1, 2013 at 8:01 am #
    What has this to do with Sidmouth?
  2. sidmouthsidJune 1, 2013 at 8:10 am #
    The ethics of lobbying is a hot topic in Sidmouth viz the council and the East Devon Business Forum and its Chairman Graham Brown. EDBF was instrumental in persuading the council to include land at Sidford Fiellds for industrial development.
  3. MarkerJune 1, 2013 at 6:33 pm #
    Errrr re EDBF, I don’t think it was instrumental in any planning gain.. The Sidford Fields fiasco was delivered by parties not associated by EDBF…
    • sidmouthsidJune 2, 2013 at 3:49 pm #
      Could you tell us more about what you mean by “the Sidford Fields fiasco”, Marker?
      Wasn’t it EDBF, then chaired by now disgraced ex-Councillor Graham Brown, who via their employment land input helped to create what most observers feel is the very large over-provision of employment land in the Local Plan? Or did the figures come from elsewhere….perhaps from the Independent consultants paid for by EDDC?
  4. MarkerJune 2, 2013 at 6:51 pm #
    You need to look at who actually put the site forward for inclusion Mr Sid. EDBF although opaque was not responsible for the allocation… Everyone is focussing on G Brown. They are missing the point… It may give blood lust satisfaction for swivel eyed loons but it betrays the facts… Back to my ice cream at Orcombe Point… Yum yum…
  5. DougalJune 10, 2013 at 9:17 am #
    Marker has a very restricted recollection of events over the past few years.
    Who was chairman of EDBF – and chairman of the LDF during the period when (secret) meetings addressed employment land allocations?
    How many regular attendees of EDBF have had land allocated in the Local Plan?
    Which company was regularly represented on EDBF during this period – and is proposing to develop the land in the AONB at Sidford?
    Most people would have great difficulty in claiming there weren’t any links here – unless they were kept in a dungeon at the Knowle and briefed only by Diviani and friends.
    No prizes offered as too many of you will get the answers straightaway.
And the debate continues...

No comments: