Councils sidestep ban on lobbying

Pickles accuses local authorities of wasting public money when they could talk to ministers directly

Local authorities are spending tens of thousands of pounds on lobbying every year at the same time as making cuts to frontline services, the Government claimed last night.

Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, accused town halls of indulging wasting taxpayers' money by hiring lobbyists when they could just talk to ministers directly.

Councils have spent the money despite a ban – introduced by Mr Pickles last March – on local government expenditure on lobbying to influence MPs or the Government. However, many authorities have sidestepped the ban by claiming they have taken on consultancies for strategic advice and general PR work.

The figures are disclosed on the eve of the publication of detailed plans for a statutory register of lobbyists, amid widespread outcry about the influence of public affairs consultancies following the Adam Werritty-Liam Fox case.

The Cabinet Office plans, set out in a consultation document, will include examining the definition of lobbying, what details lobbyists will have to make public, and the sanctions to be employed if the law is broken. It is also expected to propose forcing trade unions with political funds to be included on the register – a move that would alarm Labour, which relies heavily on such funding.

Mark Harper, the minister drawing up the proposal, has insisted that the register must not prevent people putting pressure on their MP or curb the work of campaigning charities."We must be careful to take these matters forward sensibly, and that we do not inadvertently stop our constituents and others raising important issues with us," he told MPs last month.

While attention has focused on lobbyists in Whitehall, documents released under freedom of information rules reveal the extent to which local authorities also use public affairs consultants.

Labour-run Sunderland council paid £102,434.43 to Weber Shandwick, and £10,640.02 to Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, two of London's leading lobbying firms, between March 2010 and August 2011, for "public affairs strategic advice and support". Council documents, drawn up shortly before the 2010 general election in anticipation of a Labour defeat, show officials wanted to raise the "profile and influence of the city at Westminster and in Whitehall". While the cost is a tiny part of Sunderland's £700m-plus budget, the council is cutting jobs and services at three leisure centres. A spokesman declined to comment.

The City of London Corporation is spending £120,000 between February last year and January next year on Quiller Consultants for "strategic advice and guidance". A spokesman insisted the authority did not employ consultants to contact politicians on its behalf.

The current registers for both the Association of Professional Political Consultants and the Public Relations Consultants Association show that 11 authorities have employed lobbying firms in the past few months. Since the coalition was formed, 58 authorities have used public affairs consultancies.

Mr Pickles said last night: "Why these councils feel the need to indulge in vanity lobbying when they could simply pick up the phone is beyond me. This is a waste of public cash and undermines public confidence in the political system. These councils owe their voters an apology."

News
In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
News
Jennifer Lawrence at the Vanity Fair Academy Awards party in February 2014
people12 undisclosed female victims are seeking $100m in damages
Arts and Entertainment
Adam Levine plays a butcher who obsessively stalks a woman in Maroon 5's 'Animals' music video
music'Animals' video 'promotes sexual violence against women'
News
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
voicesI like surprises - that's why I'm bringing them back to politics, writes Nigel Farage
News
Bear and hare woodland scene from John Lewis Christmas advert
newsRetailer breaks with tradition, selling real festive fir trees online for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Anthony Horowitz will write the next 007 novel
booksAnthony Horowitz to write new instalment in spy series for 2015
News
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
people
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

Sport
Kicking on: Nathaniel Clyne is relishing the challenge of the Premier League after moving from Crystal Palace
footballSurprises include a first ever call-up for one Southampton star
Voices
4 May 2013: The sun rises over Tower Bridge in London. Temperatures across the UK could be higher than several European holiday destinations by Monday, including parts of Italy and France (Andy Hepburn/PA)
voices
News
The moon observed in visible light, topography and the GRAIL gravity gradients
science

...and it wasn't caused by an asteroid crash, as first thought

News
Researchers say a diet of fatty foods could impede smell abilities
scienceMeasuring the sense may predict a person's lifespan
News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
Extras
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Advisor - East Anglia - Field-based

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: To be considered for this position you will n...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: We have opportunities for Cov...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to tea...

Digital Fundraising Analyst/Web Analyst - West Sussex - Permanent - £30k DOE

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?