Sunday Times reveals lobbyists’ advice to Audit Commission

Lobbying has been out of the headlines for a bit, but now it’s back – thanks to this story on the front page of the Sunday Times.

The paper reports that the Audit Commission shelled out £60,000 to Connect Public Affairs amid conerns over plans being cooked up by Eric Pickles.  

So what were our friends at Connect were telling their client? According to the paper, they provided the watchdog with advice on ‘how to undermine Tory frontbenchers who challenged its activities’.

Fellow lobbyists will be intrigued to read how Connect lobbyists advised the watchdog to foment a rebellion in the Tory grassroots:

‘Many Conservative local authority leaders do not follow national party lines. Therefore there is a good opportunity for the commission to exploit any potential differences in opinion.’

Connect lobbyists also urged the commission to put up a ‘strong local lobbying response in order to mitigate and combat the activities of Eric Pickles’.

Sensible stuff? Standard lobbying techniques? Perhaps so, but the Tories are claiming to be outraged that it has been payed for with taxpayer cash.

Pickles tells the Sunday Times: ‘It is disgraceful that I and other taxpayers have had to pay for the Audit Commission to do the Labour party’s dirty work.’

(The reference to the Labour Party seems to be exapined by the fact that senior folk at both the Audit Commission and Connect have strong Labour credentials….)

On Twitter today, the story provoked further reaction, from fellow lobbyist Bell Pottinger’s Peter Bingle to heavyweight Tory commentor Danny Finkelstein who went as far as to brand it a ‘scandal’.

Meanwhile Connect director Matt Bryant was working himself in to a right old state. However his agitation was apparently unrelated to his firm’s unexpected appearance on the front page of the Sunday Times.

As the story hit the streets, sports nut Matt told his followers he was ‘trying to watch murray v federer but finding it unbearable…’

One response to “Sunday Times reveals lobbyists’ advice to Audit Commission

  1. The Audit Commission did not pay a public affairs company to lobby Tory shadow ministers, or anyone else.

    Steve Bundred, the Commission chief executive, is today writing to Caroline Spelman, the shadow CLG secretary, and to Eric Pickles, the chairman of the Conservative Party, strongly to deny stories and statements to the effect that the Commission paid to lobby them or any other politician.

    Mr Bundred is writing to the editor of the Sunday Times asking him to correct a set of errors in a story that appeared on 31 January in that paper.
    In January 2009, the Commission’s Public Affairs team asked Connect to undertake a specific piece of work called a Perceptions Audit and Influence Map, to help staff better understand expectations of Comprehensive Area Assessment.

    This report cost £9,000 and was an assessment of views among opinion leaders across the political spectrum. It was used by communications staff and not seen by senior managers or members of the Commission board.

    Neither Connect nor anybody else has ever been asked to ‘lobby’ or to contact anyone on behalf of the Commission and comments in the report are those of the authors alone.

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