Councils defend right to hire lobbyists

6 Aug 10
Councils have attacked Communities Secretary Eric Pickles for trying to stop local authorities from hiring lobbyists

By David Williams

6 August 2010

Councils have attacked Communities Secretary EricPickles for trying to stop local authorities from hiring lobbyists.

Pickles said yesterday that he planned to launch a consultation on toughening up the localauthority publicity code to include stronger guidance against spending public funds on private lobby firms

Pickles said that such ‘propaganda’ was bad for democracy. He linked the issue to town hall news sheets, which can damage independent local papers.

‘Now lobbyists are being used to sidestep transparency laws, and shadowy figures are peddling more regulation and special favours,’ he said.

Pickles argued that ‘localism doesn’t need lobbyists’, and invited councillors of all political colours to contact government directly. ‘Councillors can campaign for change at a personal or party political level, rather than throwing away other people’s council tax on the corrosive and wasteful practice of government lobbying government.’

But Cllr Richard Kemp, head of the LocalGovernment Association's LiberalDemocrat group, hit back.

He accused Pickles of ‘hypocrisy’ for restricting councils’ autonomy despite paying lip-service to localism elsewhere.

In a post this afternoon on the social networking site Twitter, Kemp wrote: ‘Pickles just doesn't get that his dictat [sic] on lobby conflicts with his localism, localism, localism. What hypocrisy.’

LGA chief executive John Ransford argued that councils only hired lobbyists to win support in Westminster for major projects of ‘vital importance to residents’.

He said: ‘Like any other organisation, councils sometimes need help to navigate their way through the bureaucratic maze of Whitehall to get things done.

‘Securing long-term investment for local manufacturing, the delivery of vital transport links and improvements to infrastructure are examples of where it is often appropriate for councils to campaign on behalf of their areas’.

Ransford said such projects, once backed by central government, created jobs and investment, justifying the lobbying costs.

At a speech to the LGA last week, Pickles promised a power of general competence for councils. He challenged local government to be ‘as bold as you want’ and said he trusted councils to deliver.

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