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Thu 6 May 2021

Companies that aim to influence government policy have been awarded deals worth billions in recent years

At least £11.6 billion in public sector contracts have been awarded to companies listed on the Government’s statutory lobbyist register since its inception in March 2015, Byline Times and The Citizens can reveal.

The lobbyist register lists 178 companies that have attempted to influence the Government on behalf of themselves and/or their clients. 30% of the listed firms have won public sector contracts in the past seven years.

This £11.6 billion figure includes contracts which went to some of Britain’s largest auditing and consultancy firms – Deloitte, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) – which have won a number of high-value deals in recent years, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. These firms deny that they lobby the Government, although they are listed on the lobbyist register.

Leaving aside the consultancy giants, at least £1.5 billion in contracts or framework agreements have been awarded to other firms named on the lobbyist register since March 2015 – with 372 public sector contracts awarded to 53 separate lobbying groups. Some of these companies joined the register after 2015, but we included all contracts awarded since March that year, as there was a time-lag for some companies to sign up to the register.

“The Government’s intention behind the introduction of the register was to enhance the transparency of those seeking to lobby ministers and permanent secretaries on behalf of a third party,” the Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists says.

Four Communications is among the top-five registered lobbying firms that have won the highest-value public contracts since March 2015 and counts pharmaceutical company Pfizer among its former clients. In 2018, Four Communications won a £4.2 million contract from the Home Office to provide PR services.

The other top-five firms include Grayling Communications, as well as law firms DLA Piper, Pinsent Masons and Clifford Chance.

There is no suggestion that any of the registered lobbying firms acted improperly in winning public sector contracts. The lobbyist register does not declare which departments or ministers, if any, the companies have lobbied and all of the firms were contacted for comment.


The Greensill Affair

The issue of lobbying has spiked in the press in recent weeks due to the actions of former Prime Minister David Cameron. As exposed by the Financial Times and The Sunday Times, Cameron lobbied senior ministers on behalf of Greensill Capital – seeking the firm’s inclusion in a Treasury scheme that allowed lenders to provide COVID-19 loans to small businesses.

The founder of Greensill Capital, Lex Greensill, had previously served as a senior advisor to the Government while Cameron was Prime Minister. Several senior civil servants also held second jobs with Greensill’s firm. Two years after he departed Downing Street, Cameron joined the ranks of Greensill Capital and began lobbying Government ministers on its behalf.

This affair has, in turn, exposed the inadequacy of regulations designed to record and monitor lobbying activities. Indeed, the lobbyist register only logs companies and self-employed consultants, rather than individuals working for firms. As a result, Cameron’s name has never appeared in the register because he was technically a Greensill employee.

Illustration by Marc Winter

Cameron was also not obliged to seek advice from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) – a watchdog designed to police the jobs that ex-ministers and senior officials take after they have left office. ACOBA’s remit only covers the two years after an individual has left their Government role. Cameron resigned as Prime Minister in 2016, meaning that he could pursue lobbying jobs from 2018 onwards without consulting the watchdog.

Several inquiries have now been launched by various parliamentary bodies into the Greensill affair and the effectiveness of current lobbying regulations. Greensill itself has been forced to file for insolvency protection.

A vast web of contracts awarded to firms with close links to the governing Conservative Party has been revealed over the past year – generating a clamour for changes to the way in which public contracts and conflicts of interest are recorded and scrutinised.

Byline Times and The Citizens have previously revealed, for example, that £3 billion in COVID-related contracts have been awarded to firms owned by Conservative Party donors and associates over the past year. A further £400,000 has also been donated to the Conservatives by registered lobbyists since 2015.

In July 2011, David Cameron wrote an article for The Telegraph, promising that the Conservatives would create a “new era of transparency”. It seems that we are a long way from this vision.

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