Today, the Scottish Parliament will debate the regulation of the lobbying industry. Unethical lobbying leads to bad government. By providing inaccurate or untrue information to officials or politicians, bad decisions are made. It also locks communities and the public out of decisions because commercial lobbyists have disproportionate access and may make inaccurate claims which are not publicly known and therefore cannot be challenged.
But also, commercial lobbyists allow companies to hide their own actions. By acting as intermediaries, lobbyists can do and say things that otherwise reputable companies could not. With Craighouse, we have a commercial lobbyist claiming to be “ethical”, while acting for a different lobbyist whose ethics have been widely challenged, including in the House of Commons. But there is so much hidden and unclear, that we can’t even get a straight answer to which lobbying company works on Craighouse and who their client is. When a lobbyist says something, who are they saying it on behalf of and who takes responsibility? With Craighouse, finding this out gets very complicated very fast. For example, Napier University holds a financial interest in the Craighouse site, yet insists the lobbyist for the project is not acting on their behalf. But Invicta PA say they work for all of the Craighouse Partnership, which would include Napier. Napier University will financially benefit from this lobbyist’s activities, yet takes no responsibility for what the lobbyist says or does.
We have personally experienced unethical lobbying in the Craighouse campaign. Consider a recent example. Just before the Craighouse Hearing an email was sent by Neil Cuthbert – a lobbyist for the developer – to politicians and senior officials which included text that he claimed to be an email written by Rosy Barnes of Friends of Craighouse but with a large amount of text that she had not written. We have been asking for a correction for over 2 months. To our knowledge, no correction has been issued to the people who were sent this incorrect email and the lobbyist has rudely ignored these requests. Only yesterday did we receive the vague admission that the lobbyist is “prepared to accept” that the email may have been written by “someone else” – but he has still not apologised or offered to issue any sort of correction despite being told repeatedly in writing that the text in question was not written by Rosy.
It’s not the first time that the Craighouse lobbyists have made untrue claims about things we have said. Lobbyists have constant access to officials and politicians. How can we have proper democratic engagement when lobbyists, who also help fund party conferences, sponsor events and visit politicians are making untrue claims about what the public or community groups say? How much more is being said behind closed doors that the public never get to know?
At the start of the Craighouse project, the lobbyist was Invicta PA, a company that has continued to be the subject of repeated allegations of unethical conduct. Later on, one of Invicta PA’s employees who had been working on Craighouse, Neil Cuthbert, started a new “ethical” lobbying company, with much publicity. This new “ethical” company would be a co-operative; it would publish a list of its clients monthly, and it would publish its meetings with politicians. We asked Neil Cuthbert where they publish this information and received no answer. We gave him several opportunities to answer, but he side-stepped the questions.
There is a record in the main UK lobbyist register for Neil Cuthbert himself. He lists his employer as his Public Affairs Co-operative company and while working for his company, he lists he has 3 clients, one of which is Invicta PA. A lobbying company having as a client another lobbying company is not an open and transparent declaration of your clients and allows who is working for whom to remain hidden. And what does it mean for a lobbying company to claim it is “ethical”, if its main client is a lobbyist that doesn’t commit to those same ethical standards?
We asked Invicta PA’s Director, Mark Cummings, to explain the email where Neil Cuthbert attributes text as an email from Rosy which she has never written. He answered “This is a matter for both parties to resolve privately. It is not a matter of concern for Invicta or our client”. But Neil Cuthbert used an Invicta PA email address. It was also clearly sent just before the Craighouse planning hearing when Neil was working for Invicta on Craighouse – so how is it not a matter of concern for Invicta?
Not only are companies using lobbyists to side-step their responsibilities – lobbyists can use networks of companies to deny responsibility for their own actions. It helps them reduce the risk of the legal threats that they themselves use against communities. There is no way of complaining about lobbyists circulating untrue information, knowing where it has gone or getting it corrected. There is no external body or regulator to complain to. And yet such actions are impacting on important decisions every day.
The Scottish Parliament must regulate commercial lobbying to defend democracy in this country. Regulation of commercial lobbying of both politicians and officials is required. There should be no place for hiding responsibility through networks of companies. All lobbying ethical standards must be regulated by law, otherwise these standards are meaningless.