Apologies for the long gap in blogging here, although those who miss me can always check out my other blog, Left Foot First, for more general political chat, as well as coverage of the main issue that has been exercising me, my battle with the lovely Mr Peter Cruddas.
In any event, I have been keeping a careful eye on the government’s action – or rather inaction – on lobbying regulation. In the circumstances, it is fair to conclude that our side of the argument is winning without having to try too hard, presumably as the government discover for themselves the folly of their plans.
That said, we clearly need to be cautious, especially when another so-called “lobbying scandal” breaks. So I obviously read with great interest the story in the Telegraph this morning, “Councillors for hire who give firms planning advice“. The first thing, I obviously noticed is that the article identifies elected councillors as the culprits, rather than “lobbyists”. Indeed, unlike the oft-represted claims that “lobbyists” abuse their supposed privileged place in society, the piece focuses on potential abuse by elected representatives.
But, wait a minute, what exactly is the abuse that they have identified? Interestingly, the online piece, linked above, is rather watered down from the published version. I wonder if some of the more fanciful claims in the Telegraph article have already been successfully rebutted (potentially with the threat of legal action).
What remains is a weak claim that the consultants offering their services may know someone on the local council; and that they suggest there may be ways “around” lobbying restrictions in planning law.
Frankly, that is hardly a shattering revelation. Rightly or wrongly – and I believe wrongly – clients seems to think they have a better chance of success if they hire a consultant who knows someone on the local authority. Their assumption is that a consultant can tap up a mate to encourage them to agree to something that they would otherwise oppose. This would be tantamount to corruption; I find it highly unlikely; and I have not seen any evidence that it exists.
Furthermore, the article suggests that the consultants make use of their “inside knowledge” of the planning system. The article suggests that this knowledge extends to issues like which councils have not yet adopted their new framework plans; or which ones are more interested in “green” issues. Shock horror. How outrageous that someone knows this and offers to advise those who don’t know it. This is of course the essence of consultancy in all works of life. A client hires a consultant with expertise they do not have themselves. Unless the expertise is acquired inappropriately – and there is NO suggestion of that in this case – it cannot possibly be wrong.
And what of the claims that there are “ways around” the planning laws. This seems to refer to the fact that the consultants explain that there is a proper way to lobby on planning cases, which they offer to advise on, and which avoids the improper routes. Quite right to. A scandal? Don’t be daft.
Of course I understand why journalists return to the “lobbying scandal” time after time. But yet again, closer examination discovers that this is just another lobbying non-scandal.