Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) will soon be banned from hiring lobbyists to win government grants, after communities secretary Eric Pickles claimed the practice ‘undermines transparency’.
Ministers are aware of at least six LEPs that have used public funds to hire consultancies to lobby Whitehall on their behalf, a practice banned for local authorities and quangos.
Mr Pickles has today demanded every one of England’s 39 LEPs immediately terminates the contract of any lobbyists ‘on the books’, while outlining a new clause to grant arranegments to clamp down on their use.
The so called ‘sock puppet clause’ will ensure grant payments do not support any activity that could influence Parliament, Government or political parties.
‘There’s nothing wrong with private organisations using their own money to hire commercial firms for advice, provided it’s done in an open and transparent manner. But it’s a wasteful, corrosive and zero sum game for the public sector to be using lobbyists, and just leads to higher taxes and more red tape. The public sector never lobbies for lower taxes and less state spending,’ Mr Pickles said.
‘My department will be the first in Whitehall to introduce a no-lobbying clause in all grant agreements. If external groups are lucky enough to receive grants or win contracts with taxpayers’ money, it shouldn’t be spent on lobbying for more taxpayers’ money or more red tape. I hope we will can roll this out across central government, standing up for value for money and reining in the bureaucratic state.’
The full clause will state: '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.'
The communities secretary urged the country’s LEPs to ‘pick up the phone’ if they wanted to raise any issues with central government.
Cities minister, Greg Clark, added: ‘Local enterprise partnerships should follow the principles that apply to government and local authorities, which prevents any expenditure incurred in retaining the services of lobbyists to influence public officials, members of Parliament, political parties or the government.
‘If local enterprise partnerships have any specific concerns or points they would like to put across to government then they can easily talk directly to myself, other ministers or officials. This will both be more effective, and ensure appropriate use of public funds.’