Bridgen lobbying rap — March of the mummies — PACAC to the future – POLITICO

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— Tory MP Andrew Bridgen faces a Commons ban after a probe finds he breached lobbying rules.

— Mums hope Westminster finally gets it on childcare after taking to the streets.

— MPs sink their teeth into lobbying reform — and the current set-up is already getting a kicking.


BREAKING THIS MORNING: Tory MP Andrew Bridgen faces a five-day suspension from the Commons over his “careless and cavalier attitude” towards rules on lobbying.

What you need to know: A just-published report from the Commons standards committee finds that the Conservative backbencher failed to declare that he had received financial benefits from timber business Mere Plantations while contacting ministers and officials on their behalf.

More details: An investigation by watchdog the parliamentary commissioner for standards found that Bridgen had an inaccurate entry on the register of members’ interests for almost two years; initiated five contacts with ministers or officials “which sought to confer a benefit on Mere Plantations”; and failed to declare a relevant interest in the firm in six emails to ministers.

Those interests: Mere Plantations had given Bridgen a contract for an advisory role; paid for a trip to Ghana in 2019; and donated £5,000 to his local Conservative association. Under the rules, he should have made those interests clear in any relevant contact with ministers or officials.

MPs’ verdict: The standards committee, which passes judgment on what the watchdog has found, said Bridgen had also called the commissioner’s “integrity into question” by writing to her with a series of “wholly unsubstantiated and false allegations” that she was about to be offered a peerage for coming to the “right” conclusions in her investigations. In doing so, he had attempted to “improperly to influence the house’s standards processes,” the cross-party group of MPs said.

What now? The committee has recommended a five-day Commons suspension as well as an apology to the house and the commissioner.

But but but: Bridgen swerves the prospect of a recall petition in his constituency, something that’s only triggered if MPs are suspended for 10 or more sitting days. New Commons rules mean Bridgen has the right to appeal, but he said in a statement this morning: “Whilst I am extremely disappointed with the recommendations of the committee, I accept them and will comply with them as required to do so.” Grab the full report here.

MARCH OF THE MUMMIES: After years of frustration, Joeli Brearley reckons politicians are finally starting to pay attention to the madness of Britain’s childcare policies — they just need to come up with some fixes, and fast.

Bubbling over: The Pregnant Then Screwed founder, whose campaigning charity generated a ton of press coverage this past weekend with a nationwide series of “March of the Mummies” events, tells Influence that there’s been a noticeable change — particularly as the soaring cost of living bites — in the way the Westminster bubble views the myriad penalties new mums have to pay if they want to keep on working.

“Two years ago you would talk about childcare, and politicians and think tanks would look at you like you had two heads,” she says. “It was just not interesting to them at all.” Now, she says, there is at least “the appetite to fix this, because they can see it’s a political win” — even if Brearley’s not exactly convinced politicians’ cups are running over with top policy ideas to turn things around.

The story so far: Brearley founded Pregnant Then Screwed back in 2015, after being sacked from her job while four months’ pregnant. Unable to challenge the decision at tribunal in time without risking the health of her unborn baby, Brearley later channeled her energies into gathering more stories of discrimination against mums and trying to help them secure legal support — but admits she’d never planned a career in trying to get politicians to pay attention.

“I’ve lived in Newcastle most of my life – and Newcastle couldn’t be more far removed from Westminster,” she says. “You don’t feel any connection to politics, really, when you’re that far north … We sort of feel abandoned, really.” But when it came to engaging with MPs, Brearley says she “read a lot, and picked people’s brains as I went,” eventually managing to get an early day motion raised in parliament by sympathetic lawmakers like Labour’s Stella Creasy.

Motherhood penalty: Since then, Pregnant then Screwed’s aims (and the team itself) have grown, and it’s now a charity focused on tackling what it calls the wider “motherhood penalty,” as well offering legal and mental health advice for mums who need it.

What do we want? There are three key areas where the group reckons reform is now long overdue: childcare, parental leave and flexible working. It’s pushing for better funding for the childcare sector; “ring-fenced and properly paid” maternity and paternity leave; and for all jobs to be flexible by default.

Backdrop: Despite a host of subsidies, the U.K. is among the most expensive countries in the OECD group of democracies when it comes to childcare costs. Providers are feeling the squeeze too, with nursery groups lately warning that soaring energy costs, recruitment problems, and underfunding is prompting a wave of closures.

Slow going: “We campaigned for a long time for an independent review of the childcare sector so they could unpick what exactly has gone wrong and then look at solutions,” Brearley says. The group is still waiting. And, despite some flirtation with reform by both the Johnson and Truss governments, nothing substantive has been forthcoming. She’s scathing about Truss’ idea of reducing the number of qualified nursery staff legally required to look after children, branding it an “effort to throw poo at a wall and see what sticks,” and warning that it won’t fix the underlying causes of the crunch in childcare provision.

Oh, Canada: Pregnant Then Screwed looks enviously at Canada, where the government is working to cut fees by 50 percent on average by the end of the year, and to bring them down to ten dollars a day by 2026. “They found that the best thing to do is invest in it — and invest proper money,” Brearley says, pointing to the economic boost that can come from helping women to stay in work. “Really all our government needs to do is look at that research and copy it.”

One minor snag: Knowing who to lobby in Whitehall right now is … tricky. “It’s slightly challenging at the moment because we haven’t gotten a minister for childcare,” Brearley says. “We keep making these great relationships, and then — off they go.”


THERE’S ALWAYS A LOBBYING ANGLE: While you were all tweeting your basic takes about Matt Hancock going on ‘I’m A Celebrity’, the Guardian’s Henry Dyer was on the phone to Eric Pickles’ office. Dyer reports that the revolving door watchdog ACOBA’s chairman is already planning to fire off a letter to the ex-health secretary over his upcoming spell on the show, which comes less than two years after Hancock left office.

LABOUR GAINS: In the latest sign that public affairs agencies are starting to take HM Opposition a little more seriously, consultancy FleishmanHillard promoted senior account manager Luke Downham to head up its Labour unit. Downham, who interned for Ed Balls as shadow chancellor and worked for MP John Grogan, is part of the Labour in Communications network, contributing to the group’s wide-ranging report on how the party can sharpen its comms work.

And another one: Josh Simons has meanwhile been named as the new head of pressure group Labour Together, which carried out a warts-and-all review of the opposition party’s 2019 general election defeat. Simons is a former adviser to Jeremy Corbyn who later spoke out about anti-Semitism in the party. He’s a trustee of the Civic Power Fund, Engage Britain and the New Economics Foundation, and has previously worked for Harvard University in the U.S. as well as the IPPR think tank.

FROM SPAD TO WHERE? Fun number-crunching from the Sunday Times’ duo of Anna Menin and Matilda Davies over the weekend. The pair ran the rule over every Westminster special adviser employed since 2010, and found that 31 percent of those who’ve left government have ended up in PR and consultancy. Just 17 percent have stuck it out in politics.

More stats: Comms consultancy Portland bagged the most ex-SpAds of any one firm, snapping up 11 between 2010 and 2022. The second-biggest employer of former special advisers is consultancy Flint.

Speaking of SpAds: Ex-Grant Shapps adviser and former Conservative Party head of policy Ryan Hopkins is going back into agency land as a director in the FGS Global’s U.K. public affairs team.

RIGHT ROYAL SNOOPING: The Cabinet Office handed a £20k contract to Signal Media to keep tabs on “global media coverage related to the British Monarchy,” including “but not limited to, the late Queen Elizabeth II and the new Monarch’s King Charles III reign,” government transparency documents show.


PACAC TO THE FUTURE: Hey it only took *checks notes* two years, but a proper review of Westminster’s less-than-stellar lobbying transparency rules is now underway. Here’s what you need to know as the probe gets going.

What’s going on: The Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee this week kicked off oral evidence sessions in its post-legislative scrutiny of the (deep breath here) Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014. They’ve been asked by government to do it, after ministers got the nudge by a European transparency watchdog.

What that means: The cross-party committee will assess whether the David Cameron-era law is up to scratch and where the holes might be, before potentially recommending a bunch of changes to government in a short report. Although you can expect some similar ground to be covered, it’s separate from the same committee’s probe into the Greensill lobbying scandal — so expect sessions focused tightly on the act itself.

Who’s been up this week: The written evidence has been filtering in over the past few weeks, but nerds like us got our first chance to see the committee in action this Tuesday, as Duncan Hames, the former Lib Dem MP who now heads up the U.K. arm of NGO Transparency International, gave both barrels to the law as it stands. Hames didn’t muck about, pointing out that the lobbying register set up by the act captures “very few of those people that engage in lobbying.” (Apart from that, it’s banging, he obviously didn’t add.)

Perennial reminder: The 2014-established register run by the Office for the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists (ORCL), only covers third-party, consultant lobbyists (i.e. people working for Westminster’s public affairs agencies) and not the vast army of in-house influencers in corporates, charities and NGOs. The TI boss came armed with some depressing research that shows just how much of a transparency gulf this is leaving, with just 4 percent of the organizations mentioned in ministerial meeting logs actually showing up on the lobbying register.

Which means: The overwhelming majority of interactions ministers have with outside groups end up nowhere near the lobbying register set up specifically to shed light on who is lobbying ministers. Cool.

Dunkin’ Duncan: The former Lib Dem MP, who told MPs he’d voted for the act as a small step forward when he was in parliament, said one of the big reasons the lobbying law is so limited is that it was a Coalition government joint effort between different departments, sometimes at odds with each other. It also, he said, likely came up against the government’s once-fashionable “one-in, two-out” rule that mandated that any new red tape for business had to come coupled with some slashing of burdens too.

The problem in a nutshell: “You can find out an awful lot about the activities of Google and its lobbying in the U.S. register,” Hames explained by way of comparison. Yet, unless its being represented by an agency, Google doesn’t crop up in Westminster’s register because it doesn’t actually match the narrow definition under the law. Meanwhile, very little comes out about the tech giant’s meetings with the British government from Whitehall’s side either, because its own disclosure system lets government get away with “incredibly bland” descriptions of what was actually discussed. “In the U.S., they have to declare how much they spend on their lobbying, and their consultant lobbyists need to declare the value of the fees that they’ve charged for their lobbying activity,” Hames pointed out.

One more big problem: Hames wasn’t thrilled that the government’s own data on lobbying meetings basically only covers departmental chinwags, and not encounters at more political events like party conferences. “It’s as if the minister takes off their ministerial hat when they’re meeting people outside the government department,” he noted.

Stay tuned: Influence expects plenty more rave reviews of the lobbying act in the weeks to come. In the meantime, the committee’s sent a very polite note to Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden to ask if he’d be so kind as to actually provide the formal memorandum setting out the the terms of the review the group of MPs has been asked to carry out. Also, it’d be nice to know who’s actually turning up from government to speak to them “before Christmas this year,” chairman William Wragg suggests. “Can you confirm who the relevant minister now is, and your intention to facilitate this?” We live in hope.


FREE AS A PORT: Freeports and investment zones are back in the headlines as Rishi Sunak’s new government ponders the future of a flagship post-Brexit policy designed to jazz up select bits of the U.K. So here’s a cut-out-and-keep policy primer for public affairs pros, courtesy of top POLITICO colleagues Annabelle Dickson and Graham Lanktree.

What are you on about? Freeports, and the snazzier Liz Truss iteration — “investment zones” — basically aim to breathe new life into designated bits of the U.K. by letting them shrug off taxes, rules and regulations in a bid to get growth going.

What’s the difference? A key difference between freeports and investment zones is that freeports need to have a physical barrier encircling them. That’s because they allow goods, such as manufacturing components, to be imported tariff-free and then exported without facing British duties. The 38 investment zones Truss planned to set up were not meant to target ports, but to revive and draw investment to town and city centers.

Revenge is a dish best served Gove: Leveling-Up Secretary Michael Gove made clear this weekend he’s reviewing Truss’ plans for investment zones to make sure they actually do support growth, create jobs and don’t have a detrimental impact on the environment. So don’t get too excited about those ones just yet.

Long live the freeport: Freeports have deeper roots, and were probably the greatest hit of Sunak’s brief think tanking career. A matter of months after the EU referendum in November 2016, the then-little-known and clearly ambitious Sunak hoped they would fill the sails of the post-Brexit economy. He penned a report for the center-right Centre for Policy Studies think tank arguing freeports could create more than 86,000 jobs if they were as successful as those in the United States.

Cheerleaders: At the time Associated British Ports championed Sunak’s call, heralding it as an example of “creative and ambitious thinking.” Chair of the Thames Estuary Growth Board, Kate Willard, also lobbied the government to establish the Thames Freeport — a partnership between the UAE’s state-run DP World and Forth Ports. And business parks and local councils have all lined up to back the idea.

Tory tussle: Advisers working in the Johnson government say there was a “huge tussle in government” between Sunak and Truss, then trade secretary, over who could claim ownership of the policy. There was wider government buy-in too, said one former government official, with “a lot of people in the No. 10 policy unit” either working on the policy or “heavily influenced by it.”

Where we’re at today: When Sunak quit as chancellor in July, there were eight freeports in England in the works, with the government also signaling its intention to open one each in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland then fought for, and won the right to, an extra freeport which will be specifically aimed at boosting green businesses.

So … do they work? The jury’s out on that one. A long-standing argument in the research on freeports and their ilk is that they simply divert investment that was destined for other parts of the country, rather than attracting genuinely new money into the national economy. And in the past few months, dredging to create the Teesside Freeport — the largest in the U.K. — has been blamed by academics and local fishermen for the mass death of crabs and lobster in the surrounding area. Don’t expect this debate to go away any time soon.


Martin Parkes is the new managing director and co-head of EU public policy at investment management giant Blackrock, after 18 years heading up its global public policy group.

George Osborn (no not that one) has an as-yet-unannounced new job lined up, so games industry lobby Ukie is on the hunt for a new head of campaigns and comms.

Rud Pedersen‘s London office bagged former Tobias Ellwood parliamentary aide Millie Beaver as a consultant.

Adam Henry joined lobbying firm Flint Global as a manager after more than five years with watchdog the Financial Conduct Authority.

Cordelia Tucker O’Sullivan is the new director of policy, research and comms at criminal justice charity Revolving Doors, after stints with ADVANCE, Refuge and the Fawcett Society.

Former Chief of the Defense Staff Nick Carter has added a few more strings to his bow, the latest ACOBA releases show. The former army chief has been cleared to take up a non-exec gig with insurance firm Convex; become a trustee of think tank the Royal United Services Institute; and teach at Stanford and Harvard. He’s previously been given the thumbs-up to advise asset management firm Schroders.

Rachel Ford joined WA Communications as an associate director in the firm’s strategic comms practice after serving as deputy head of news at the Ministry of Defence. She’s also done spells at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and in health, charity and travel PR.

ConservativeHome boss Mark Wallace is the new chief executive of Political Holdings. The Lord Ashcroft-owned company recently acquired a bunch of titles, including PoliticsHome and Civil Service World, from Merit Group, in which Ashcroft is a major shareholder.

Conservative donor and philanthropist Leo Noé has been appointed chair of the CSJ Foundation, the charity arm of the Centre for Social Justice.

ICYMI: For anyone who intentionally ignores London Playbook so they can get their news much later, the ex-head of U.K. News at ITV, Amber de Botton, is the new Downing Street comms chief. De Botton was once a very kind and patient deputy editor to your Influence author in his first gig, as a spotty and incapable intern at Total Politics (and long before we were a spotty and incapable policy editor at POLITICO.)

Well worth your time: This moving post from Lansons co-founder Tony Langham, whose “forever magnificent” son Alex died this year. Alex’s donated organ tissue has now saved two lives, and Langham is urging others to join the register.

Events horizon: Is the future of public affairs and politics digital? The CIPR gets stuck in to that very question on November 17.

Thanks: To Jack Blanchard and Kate Day for all the help.

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