FOCUS: UK LOBBYING - Getting ready for a flurry of activity. With the new Government keen to involve industry in its policy making process, the time is ripe for businesses to raise their voices in Parliament. By Poppy Brech
Labour’s use of policy reviews became the butt of jokes at Westminster last year when over 50 task forces were set up in the first 100 days of Government. Austin Mitchell MP quipped that Labour had ’hit the ground reviewing.’
Labour’s use of policy reviews became the butt of jokes at
Westminster last year when over 50 task forces were set up in the first
100 days of Government. Austin Mitchell MP quipped that Labour had ’hit
the ground reviewing.’
For lobbyists and their clients however, reviews present an opportunity,
unequalled in recent years, to contribute directly to the development
and implementation of policy.
Jon McLeod, director of Shandwick Public Affairs, says that lobbyists
underestimate the importance of reviews at their peril. ’These groups
are a new and important channel of influence. They are the routes
through which Government expects to hear from industry.’
Ben Lucas, director of Lawson, Lucas and Mendelsohn worked on Tony
Blair’s campaign during the election and thinks that the reviews are a
recognition by Government of the limits of the state in delivering
policy. ’Blair sees the role of Government as one of leading and
marshalling the various forces within the country, which include the
private sector,’ he says.
The New Deal Task Force is a good example of how Government expects
businesses to develop and deliver policy. Chaired by Sir Peter Davis,
group chief executive of the Prudential Corporation, membership includes
Michael Wemms, operations director at Tesco. The New Deal policy has the
overall objective of getting the unemployed back to work and improving
their skills and employability. The task force’s remit is three-fold: to
advise on the design and delivery of the New Deal, to secure business
commitment and to monitor progress.
As task force members, companies such as Tesco are committed not just to
an advisory role, but also to meeting the task force objectives in
practice. In December, Tesco announced it would be offering 1,500 jobs
under the scheme, the biggest single company commitment so far to the
Given the diverse nature of the reviews, determining which ones are
important presents lobbyists with an important challenge. According to
Jon McLeod, there are three general reviews which affect every business
trading in the country: the advisory groups on competitiveness; the
group looking at competitiveness in Europe, and the better regulation
’These are the groups in which advice to ministers is being
Everyone in public affairs should be tracking how these groups influence
the general thrust of Government policy,’ says McLeod.
Other lobbyists view specific sector reviews which directly affect their
clients’ business, as important. For the Waterfront Partnership, whose
clients include Associated British Ports and Eurotunnel, the
Government’s review of transport is key.
Executive director Steve Bramall sees transport as a particularly
difficult area for the Government and one in which his clients can make
a real contribution with policy analysis and strategic advice.
Most lobbyists would agree with Mike Lee, deputy managing director of
Westminster Strategy, that the current spate of reviews is creating more
work. Jeremy Fraser, director of GJW Government Relations estimates that
the company has added 25 per cent to its staff since the election. Peter
Robinson, director of GPC Market Access also says that his company is
experiencing significant growth.
Ben Lucas, whose company was the first new agency to be set up after the
election, agrees that the review culture has increased opportunities for
lobbyists to help companies play a role in a more open process. However,
he warns that companies must have a genuine contribution to make. ’It’s
not about getting someone to meet someone else in order to make the
right decision, it’s about creating a broader consensus on mutual areas
His view, echoed by a number of lobbyists, is that the Government
expects more than ever before from business. According to Jon McLeod:
’Labour wants this magical thing called ’corporate social
responsibility’ which is about businesses putting back into the market
some of the benefits they reap.’
In terms of reviews, this has meant businesses becoming involved in
areas of policy which are unconnected to their commercial interests, in
order to contribute knowledge or expertise. Sainsbury’s, for example,
has taken part in reviews such as the disability rights task force, as
well as a variety of educational task forces.
The composition of policy review bodies provides few clues as to which
areas of the business establishment are ’in’ and which are ’out’ with
New Labour. According to Caroline Daniel writing in the New Statesman (1
August, 1997), some of the invitees suggest ’good old fashioned
patronage’ with appointments such as that of Northern Foods chairman
Christopher Haskins, a loyal Labour supporter, as chairman of the Better
Regulation task force.
Conversely, utility companies which were very much the target of Labour
criticism when in opposition, have been actively involved in the welfare
to work task force.
Lee says you can identify certain common themes in the selection of
’Either they’ve got a known expertise, they’re a major player in their
field, or they’ve got a particular individual whose got a good
reputation for creative thinking,’ he says.
The lack of any official criteria for task force membership presents
lobbyists with potential difficulties when it comes to helping clients
to become part of the New Labour policy making process.
Bramall argues that in certain cases it is neither appropriate nor
helpful to lobby for clients to be included in reviews. ’Getting on a
panel can actually restrict your room for manoeuvre because you are
almost part of Government in that process,’ he says.
Others disagree. ’I can’t think of a reason why our clients wouldn’t
want to contribute to a process that would lead to policy formulation,’
Lee believes that submitting interesting ideas and proposals and tuning
in to different new agendas is key to ensuring client’s involvement in
policy reviews. He says: ’We did a lot of work with the Design Council
ahead of the election in terms of positioning them as a vital voice in
the development of UK competitiveness. It has delivered results -
they’ve become a leading voice in terms of thinking through policies on
everything from millennium products to the rebranding of a Government
There is broad agreement among lobbyists that the political landscape
has changed under New Labour. In addition to more open relations with
business, and the involvement of businesses at a much earlier stage in
the policy making process, the size of the Government’s majority has
meant the political fulcrum has shifted from Westminster to
This shift in power has in turn has impacted on lobbyists - whereas with
Major’s small majority the ’in’ or sought after lobbyists were those who
had excellent contacts with MPs, those who are most sought after under
New Labour are those who know how Whitehall works.
According to Sainsbury’s head of group public affairs Roger Saoul: ’What
is happened is that we have gone back to the days of Mrs Thatcher in
1983 where, because of a huge majority in Parliament, we’ve had to focus
our work on civil servants, on special advisers and on ministers.’
Bramall thinks clients have been quick to pick up on the change.
’Clients are much more suspicious of lobbyists who say, I’ll sort
something out for you. What they want to know is how do I best go about
influencing policy, what are civil servants saying to ministers, what is
the political agenda I need to be aware of?’
Saoul agrees. ’What I want to hear from lobbyists is: Government’s
thinking is proceeding along those lines, have you adjusted to that, and
given that, what do you have that would be useful to present?’
McLeod adds: ’Clients now expect a much more composite view of what the
Government is doing. The key for lobbyists is to track developments. The
Government has taken several jigsaw pieces out of the box, but the final
picture has yet to emerge.’
CASE STUDY: Hunt groups are baying for action
Whether or not hunting with hounds should be banned is one of the most
contentious isues this Parliamenthas had to face to date.
As Michael Foster’s private member’s bill reaches committee stage, both
sides of the debate are claiming victory. The anti-hunt lobby,
represented by the Campaign for the Protection for Hunted Animals
(CPHA), point at their 411 to 151 majority at the bill’s second reading
on 28th November.
The pro-hunt lobby, whose campaign is being spearheaded by the
Countryside Alliance, claim widespread media support.
As early as January 1997, the Countryside Alliance recognised that a
likely Labour victory meant a high chance of an anti-hunting bill in the
first round ofPrivate Members’ bills. In response, they began to plan a
large countryside rally to take place in Hyde Park on 10 July aimed at
highlighting the perceived indifference of urban politicians to country
issues. The Alliance claimed over 120,000 attended the rally.
The Countryside Alliance followed the rally with a mass lobby of
Parliament on 19 October for which over 850 supporters travelled to
Westminster to visit their MPs.
In the run-up to the Bill’s second reading, media relations support was
provided by The Public Policy Unit. In making its case, the team
emphasised the threat to rural jobs that a hunting ban would bring and
positioned hunting as a minority pursuit threatened by a tyrannical
majority. It claims support for the cause from titles such as the Times,
the Daily Telegraph and the Independent.
For anti-hunt campaigners, the Hyde Park rally acted as a call to
The International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Royal Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the League Against Cruel Sports
formed a tripartite campaign under the banner of the Campaign for the
Protection for Hunted Animals (CPHA).
Assisted by Shandwick Public Affairs; Lawson, Lucas Mendelsohn and Clear
Communications, the CPHA team established a rapid rebuttal unit to
target and kill misinformation.
Another aspect of the anti-hunt campaign’s strategy was to convert
passive public opinion into active public support. The three
organisations funded a joint advertising campaign in support of the
Foster Bill, asking the public to write to their MPs. The CPHA claims it
resulted in one of the biggest post bags MPs have seen for years.
For both lobbies, the attitude of the Government is key. The anti-hunt
lobby are hoping that Blair’s affirmation of support for the aims of the
Foster Bill means the Government will either give it extra time, or bolt
on an amendment to an existing criminal justice bill. The pro-hunters
are counting on a statement from Home Office Minister George Howarth
that no special time will allowed for the Bill in this session of
CASE STUDY: ECB claim Broadcast Act is just not cricket
With the growth of cable and satellite television, the rights of sports
governing bodies to sell exclusive coverage of major sporting events has
been widely debated in the press.
To protect access by the general viewing public to certain key sporting
events, the 1996 Broadcasting Act prevented sports governing bodies from
selling the TV rights to either subscription or pay-per-view
broadcasters as exclusive deals. Key sporting events, also known as
listed events, include the FA Cup Final,Wimbledon Finals Weekend and the
whole of domestic test match cricket.
For some time, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has been
campaigning for cricket to be de-listed. Its argument is that by
restricting sale of test match cricket coverage to terrestrial channels,
the list suppresses the price it can command and limits the potential
for investing in the sport.
In July 1997, Labour announced a review of listed events, which included
issuing a consultation paper on the criteria for judging the list,
followed by the setting up of an advisory group to consider any possible
In August 1997, ECB appointed Westminster Strategy to help develop its
response to the review. A key element of the team’s approach was to
emphasise that if cricket were to be de-listed, the extra money
available could fund training of young players as well as improvements
It was also argued that the other events listed are single events of
short duration, compared to 180 hours of cricket.
The team has made clear that the ECB accepts that the Lords Test Match
will continue to be listed. Furthermore, should it be granted the right
to consider bids from subscription TV, ECB will consider all bids fairly
and as a minimum will ensure prime time highlights on terrestrial
In addition to making formal submissions at consultation and review
stages, ECB has made use of its contacts with the national media to
raise awareness of the issue. The team has also been working with county
cricket organisations, to generate activity at constituency level.
CASE STUDY: Price fixing could prove fatal to pharmacists
For the last two years, community pharmacists have been fighting the
threat of legal action by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and
supermarket chain Asda to abolish resale price maintenance (RPM) - a
fixed pricing policy which applies to all over the counter
The OFT and Asda argue that the policy is anti-competitive; that retail
outlets should be able to determine pricing for these medicines, with
the likely outcome that prices will come down.
Community pharmacists, represented by the Community Pharmacists Action
Group (CPAG) argues that safeguarding consumer access to a local
pharmacy is more important than price. In their view, abolishing RPM
will put the existence of independent community pharmacists in
With the Labour victory and the introduction of the Government’s
Competition Bill, the issue of RPM moved onto the political agenda. CPAG
hired Lawson Lucas Mendelsohn to help lobby for the continuence of
Labour is known to be concerned to make health care services more
accessible to consumers. Lawson Lucas Mendelsohn has therefore
emphasised the range of services that community pharmacies can provide
in terms of health care and advice, thereby relieving pressure on
doctors and the NHS. This strategy has been successful in securing
support for the campaign from the Department of Health. The Health
Secretary Frank Dobson has written to President of the Board of Trade
Margaret Beckett asking that her department thinks very carefully before
changing existing policy on RPM.
Stage two of the campaign strategy included independent research
commissioned by economics consultancy NERA into the likely effect of the
abolition of RPM on community pharmacists. As a point of comparison, the
report looks at how out-of-town supermarkets have contributed to the
decline of local butchers and grocers. CPAG is keen to point out that
unlike these butchers and grocers, community pharmacies can save
With the Competition Bill scheduled to reach the Commons in February,
the campaign to save RPM is far from over. Lawson is convinced that if
his lobby is to win, it will do so on the basis of rational
’This is a very pragmatic Government. The more you base your argument on
coherent argument and fact, the more likely you are to get your message
across,’ he says.
This article was first published on PR Week UK
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