The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is under pressure to explain its attempts to ban Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) from lobbying government, after receiving widespread criticism from the sector.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles has vowed to prevent LEPs lobbying government calling it corrosive and counter-productive. He called on LEPs to simply pick up the phone to ministers rather than hire third parties.
However the wording of the planned amending clause to LEPs’ grant agreement that the DCLG wish to use to ban the practice, appears to go much further and has raised eyebrows throughout the sector.
The so-called anti-sock puppet clause states: '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.'
In response to questions from Transport Network, local growth minister Penny Mordaunt said: ‘Public bodies, including quasi-public bodies like Local Enterprise Partnerships, shouldn’t be using lobbyists – it is a waste of money that otherwise could be spent on regeneration and economic growth. The whole practice is a zero-sum game and not transparent. You don’t need lobbyists to arrange a meeting with a Minister or local MP.’
However according to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations the wording of the clause could even prevent such meetings with ministers or local MPs.
Andrew Ross, public relations and policy manager at CIPR, said: ‘This is an incredibly badly worded clause. It raises questions about how LEPs carry out legitimate meetings with MPs and civil servants, even phone calls. The wording definitely needs to be reconsidered.’
He added that: ‘Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) were created on the premise that they would not be ‘creatures of Government’, and in order to work effectively they need to deliver their policy objectives in a coherent and effective manner – whether this be through meeting directly with parliamentarians, or through responding to consultations.
‘Strategic lobbying advice from third-party consultants assist in this matter by providing greater understanding of the legislative and political process, creating ethical and achievable objectives within them. Without such expertise at hand, LEPs will not be able to effectively champion the interests of their area, simply creating an additional tier of bureaucracy, ultimately driving down efficiency and increasing the volume of red tape.’
Transport Network has previously reported that Mike Blackburn chair of Greater Manchester LEP said in response to the clause: ‘If that means LEPs should not be allowed to talk to people, organisations or bodies, be they MPs or others, frankly that is just barking mad really.’
The DCLG would not comment on the specific wording of the amendment.