Pro-car lobbyist advised Prescott on roads policy

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The Independent Online
JOHN PRESCOTT is being advised by a former lobbyist for a firm representing road and rail companies on his new transport White Paper.

Mike Craven, who worked for Mr Prescott in the 1980s, has spent the past 10 years working for the public affairs firm Market Access. Among the firm's clients last year were the RAC, Rover Group, Toyota and Vauxhall. It also acted for a number of public transport firms.

Mr Prescott's paper will include radical proposals to curb car use in towns and cities. Local councils will be given powers to levy congestion charges on motorists who bring their cars into city centres at peak times, and new charges will be imposed on car parking for supermarkets, offices and factories. There will also be higher taxes on the private use of company cars.

Since leaving his job as managing director of Market Access in March, Mr Craven has been on "gardening leave" because of a clause in his contract banning him from working for rivals, according to former colleagues.

In a parliamentary answer this week, the Deputy Prime Minister confirmed that Mr Craven had helped to prepare his transport White Paper, due for publication next month.

A number of advisers had helped with the document, he said. These included government officials, environment and transport user groups, academics and public consultants.

"Mr Craven is one such source of advice. The White Paper is being drafted in the normal way by my department," he said in reply to a question from Jonathan Sayeed, Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire.

A list of Market Access's clients between May and November 1997 includes a number of transport companies. As well as car manufacturers and the RAC, the firm worked for London Transport, the Confederation of Passenger Transport and GEC Alsthom Holdings, which bid in February to replace train signalling between London and Glasgow. It also represented Wisconsin Central Transport, which bought British Rail's former freight business.

A senior source in the lobbying industry said there was nothing untoward in Mr Craven acting as an adviser. "It was always assumed he would go off and work for John Prescott at some stage. This is informal; he isn't a Whitehall adviser. I get the impression that if he was helping out it would be as a personal favour," he said, adding that ministers need expert advice, so they are bound to turn to people with industry links.

However, Mr Craven was not heavily involved in the transport side of Market Access's business. The source said: "If you appoint people who have no knowledge of the area, they are going to be useless."

Mike Craven was one of the first Labour officials to make the move into lobbying. When he left Mr Prescott's office in 1988 he was one of only a handful to have done so. Now almost every major lobbying firm employs at least one former Labour staffer.

Among the most senior lobbyists who used to work for Labour are Colin Byrne, Peter Mandelson's former deputy in the party's information department, now at Shandwick; and Mike Lee, a former adviser to David Blunkett, who is now a director of Westminster Strategy.

Mr Craven said last year that he was more interested in hiring experts from business or the Civil Service than party hacks. "It's not who you know, it's what you know," he said.

Mr Prescott has been battling with the Downing Street policy unit over his plans to curb car use. Last month he said in an interview that he would not be thwarted by advisers who he described as "teenyboppers".