Posts in August

Think Tank: Lobbyists & Lawmakers?

August 22nd, 2017   •   no comments   

‘Lobbyists’ have never been far from the seat of government. The term derives from the lobbies of the Houses of Parliament where Ministers gathered before and after debates: and where those that wanted to influence their opinion would go to get their attention. The verb ‘to lobby’ first appeared in print in Ohio, used in the context of local politics. While the word ‘lobbyist’ was first found in the 1840s and mostly related to Washington. But a recent a recent turn of events has put the spotlight on the interface between British lobbyists and politicians – calling into question where one ends and the other begins.

Barry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield, has become the first serving politician to be officially registered as a lobbyist. He is listed on the register of consultant lobbyists because of his chairmanship of Policy Connect, a not-for-profit company that has held meetings attended by paying businesses and ministers.

Alison White, the registrar of consultant lobbyists, concluded that Policy Connect should be defined as a lobbying company because it is paid money by clients who are then given the opportunity to meet ministers. Her judgement follows an inquiry into whether informal parliamentary groups have been used to gain access to government.

Sheerman confirmed that he had reluctantly registered as a lobbyist, but disagrees with the rules governing the register. Maintaining that Policy Connect is a social enterprise providing a service for industry experts and ministers.

Although lobbying rules do not prevent MPs from holding a paid outside interest as a director, consultant, or adviser, the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament is unequivocal on paid advocacy, stating:

Taking payment in return for advocating a particular matter in the House is strictly forbidden. Members may not speak in the House, vote, or initiate parliamentary proceedings for payment in cash or kind. Nor may they make approaches to Ministers, other Members or public officials in return for such payment.

According to the MPs’ code of conduct, they are allowed to work as a consultant or be paid for advice, but are forbidden from acting as a “paid advocate”.

Part 1 of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 introduced a new registration system for consultant lobbyists, which came into operation in March 2015, following a spate of ‘cash for access’ scandals in Westminster. The first Register was published on 25 March, and it included 53 entries.

The aim of the register is to gain transparency about possible influences of interest groups on Parliamentarians and their staff. Several studies indicate that lobby transparency leads to a decrease in corruption, and registers exist for several countries. Their effectiveness is rated differently, strongly depending on their exact regulations. Many non-mandatory registers do not include powerful lobbyists.

The restrictions under the lobbying rules apply for six months. A Member can free him or herself immediately of any restrictions due to a past benefit by repaying the full value of any benefit received from the outside person or organisation in the preceding six month period

All-party parliamentary groups (APPGs), consisting of members of both houses, meet together relatively informally to discuss a particular issue of concern. They are either country based, or subject based, the topics reflecting parliamentarians’ concerns. Officers are generally drawn from the major political parties and strive to avoid favouring one political party or another.

APPGs have no formal place in the legislature, but are an effective way of bringing together parliamentarians and interested parties. In the UK and many other countries, APPGs must be registered every parliamentary year and must hold an annual general meeting where the Chair and Officers are elected.

Their benefit, to campaign groups, charities, and other non-governmental organisations active in the field, is that they allow them to become involved in discussions and influence politicians. Often a relevant charity or trade association will provide a secretariat for the APPG, helping to arrange meetings, and keeping track of its members. Other APPGs may resolve their administration burden in other ways, either by borrowing capacity from an MP or peer’s office, or by employing staff of their own. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief, for example, employs two members of staff paid for through subscriptions from its stakeholders.

As of 2015 there were more than 550 APPGs.  Associate parliamentary groups are similar except that they are made up of not only members of the House of Commons or Lords but can also include members from outside Parliament.

In early 2016 the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists launched an inquiry into concerns that APPGs were being used to bypass lobbying registration rules, following reports that lobbyists were acting as APPG secretariats, so gaining access to legislators. White launched her inquiry earlier this year after a growth in the number groups, which are also allowed use of the Palace of Westminster’s catering facilities and can invite senior ministers and civil servants for meetings with donors.

So, Sheerman’s registration raises questions about the role of MPs and whether they should be both lawmakers and lobbyists. Furthermore, it highlights the part played by trade associations and others in influencing policy decisions. Which, if challenged, will further undermine associations’ claims to wield influence in an age where their gatekeeping role is already compromised.

From the public perspective, there is a rising tide of scepticism about the honesty of their representatives; the influence of private business interests over the public sphere; and apparent diminution of citizen’s rights. The electorate are entitled to ask increasingly uncomfortable questions. And expect satisfactory answers! Especially if we don’t want to re-enforce the belief iterated by John Gastil, Professor of Political Science at Penn State University, when he says, “There are two fundamental problems in American politics. The first is that most Americans do not believe that elected officials represent their interests. The second is that they are correct.”

Sources:

Ethical Lobbying, an Oxymoron? By J van Boven

https://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/standards-and-financial-interests/parliamentary-commissioner-for-standards/code-of-conduct-and-rules-of-the-house/

http://www.parliament.uk/lobbying

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lobbying

http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7175

Joy of Tax

August 8th, 2017   •   no comments   

 

 

There used to be a tradition around this time of year where broadsheet newspapers would ask politicians what books they were taking on holiday as their summer reading. Some went for populist options to show they were ‘in touch’ with the electorate. Others chose heavyweight tomes by Proust, Ayn Rand, Thomas Piketty, or similar, to flaunt either their intellectual or ideological inclinations!

Frankly, I doubt that any of their selections got read. Both Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ at 696 pages, and Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’ at over 1100 pages are frankly too heavy to be supported whilst lying prone in a deck chair. And Proust’s ‘À la Recherche du Temps Perdu’ at over 3,000 pages would give you a pretty hefty blow to the head if you fell asleep whilst holding it aloft!

However, I’ve found a book that all politicians should put on their summer reading list. Its light, at just 300 pages including notes. It’s a paperback, so shouldn’t cause injury. And its message doesn’t require any interpretation. First published in 2015, The Joy of Tax by Richard Murphy, isn’t on any best seller lists any more, nor is it bang up to date.

However, I reckon it should be required reading for politicians of either stripe. Not that they will of course, because dogma does not permit such forays into joined-up thinking.  But, even if you don’t subscribe to the author’s ultimate prescription for the ideal tax system, this little book is the perfect primer for the understanding of tax. Not only does Murphy remind us of the history of taxation and what exactly tax is, but swiftly deals with the naysayers who seek to undermine it for their own purposes. He also demolishes some of the canards that have become the backbone of much debate around the subject.

Laissez-fair capitalists my rend their clothes and tear out their hair at the notion, but tax can also have a social purpose. Murphy reminds us of the pillars on which an equitable tax system should be built and the fundamental ideas that can help fashion it. A ‘must read’ for ALL aspiring politicians!

Murphy was appointed Professor of Practice in International Political Economy in the Department of International Politics at City University London in 2015, as a part-time appointment involving research and teaching. Previously he had been a visiting fellow at University of Portsmouth Business School, the Centre for Global Political Economy at the University of Sussex, and at the Tax Research Institute at the University of Nottingham. He was the founder of, and remains on the Board of Directors of, the Fair Tax Mark.

www.penguin.co.uk

ISBN 978-0-552-17161-8

The Verdict: Get Personal or Get Ignored

August 8th, 2017   •   no comments   

 

At the back end of July Hart Square held a seminar entitled ‘Get Personal or Get Ignored’, featuring contributions from Rachel Weber of dotmailer and Steve Smith of City & Guilds. Here’s my verdict: 

Allen Reid

Plumbing the depths of his experience Allen Reid, director of client projects at Hart Square, the niche not-for-profit tech consultancy, ruminated in July on the lack of insight that most NFPs have into their customers and members’ personal preferences. Typically Sarah, Allen’s archetypal customer, is not interested in your work silos. She has her own, and she’s not going to waste time on yours. In fact she only opens one in fifteen emails, unless they happen to be from a colleague. Nevertheless, in most associations a ‘spray and pray’ methodology is still employed: scattering a plethora of messages over Sarah, most of which are irrelevant to her. 

 

Even as far back as the turn of the 20th century, when nearly all advertising was via printed media, this was recognised as an inefficient way of promoting a message. However, in those days there was little other choice. Even John Wannamaker, one of the pioneers of American department store retailing, is quoted in 1917 as saying, “I know half of advertising is wasted, we just don’t know which half”. And, according to Allen at least, little had improved as the century neared its end, and he began his career as an analyst.

His experience, and that of Hart Square, proved that the keys to personalised messaging are data, systems integration, and staff empowered to make use of that data. However, in most organisations, there is no point staff having ‘good ideas’ because current systems are too clunky to make pursuing them worthwhile.

Very few associations can deny holding their data on multiple spreadsheets. Partly because ‘knowledge is power’, and those wielding that power fear that losing it will undermine their role in the organisation. However Allen – whose motto is “if it moves, track it” – contends that automated interactions should free up staff to do things that only humans can do. And frankly associations have got to re-think their role in an era when they are no longer information ‘gate-keepers’.

Rachel Weber

Linking the two presentations Rachel Weber, senior account manager at dotMailer, highlighted the benefits and technical improvements that could be achieved by installing a system such as theirs. Allied to all important timing, organisations could move to email personalised with mail-merge by name, branch, and areas of interest. Personal preferences can also be recorded, giving an advantage to sales teams tasked with sustaining client relationships.

Internally the practical advantages to the association are: simple and quick data transfer and synching; easy email set-up; unique customer view with data held in one place; and automated actions.Overall, Rachel’s advice to not-for-profits is to get trained, clean up existing data, implement developments in stages, and test everything as you go along. A discipline underscored by the final speaker.

Steve Smith

City & Guilds are a global leader in skills development, providing services to training providers, employers, and trainees across a variety of sectors.  Today’s workplace demands training, and two million learners are working towards one of their qualifications, developing their talents and abilities in the hope of career progression. Whilst vocational qualifications, technical qualifications and apprenticeships are valued by employers world-wide. So the task of integrating and personalising data and communications was no mean achievement.

The journey started in 2012 with no targeted audiences and over a four to five month tender period built into a brand refresh and the construction of templates. The original concept was a three-year strategy, bringing in other departments over time. Rapid progress followed, and by 2014 they were looking at customer preferences and interests at a granular level.

In 2015 it was decided to bring in the sales department, and the old system of disseminated Excel spreadsheets was abandoned.  Hart Square held their hands throughout the process, asking relevant questions and helping define objectives, like what data was needed, how to capture it, and how and what to measure.

In 2017 the system went live with the global sales team using Microsoft Dynamics! But did integrating their ESP with CRM have the desired effect? The answer is yes, with deliverability up two percent, opens up forty-one percent, and clicks up by a staggering two hundred and twenty-five percent. They also have forty-one percent new contacts!

The future holds the prospect of further integrations, possibly including Hootsuite, Sitecore, Eventbright, and SAP. But what are Steve’s top tips for success? First, gain executive sponsorship and governance for your plans, including a Board level steering group, and have clear objectives from the outset. In their case they decided to think big, start small, then scale-up quickly. Next, always involve users from the outset, and plan for infrastructure to support the growing needs of the business. And lastly, use an external partner for scale, and don’t ever under-estimate the support you’ll need after going live!

Steve’s last tip – and my verdict? Don’t let the IT department lead the process!!!

 

Michael Hoare