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How businesses can take their first steps into the world of lobbying

Where there’s legislation, there’s the desire to change it. But for businesses that have never lobbied before, it can seem a daunting task, particularly amidst so many scandalous headlines. Here’s how businesses can take their first steps into the world of lobbying.

Traditionally, lobbying in the UK has been regulated by a patchwork of different bodies and legislation, with a strong emphasis on self-regulation. After a series of high-profile scandals, Britain faces a lobbying crackdown.

Latest legislation

The Government recently published its Strengthening Ethics and Integrity in Central Government paper, which seeks to tighten the rules around lobbying. For example, under the new rules, government departments and senior civil servants must declare detailed and regular information related to lobbying. Meanwhile, those registered with the Office for the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists (ORCL) - like us - must identify lobbying clients on their books and log any approaches made to government.

Lobbying has been in the limelight recently because of various high-profile scandals. In 2020, former prime minister (now foreign secretary) David Cameron was back in the news because he’d tried to persuade ministers to allow finance firm Greensill Capital to join the Corporate Covid Financing Facility (CCFF) scheme - and was reportedly paid over £700k a year for doing so.

Meanwhile, Owen Paterson MP was accused of an “egregious case of paid advocacy” after repeatedly lobbying on behalf of two companies that paid him over £100,000 a year.

Lobbying for good

If we focus purely on the scandal, we risk overlooking the positives of political influence, like the value of industry expertise in guiding legislation. Many politicians, including government ministers, are described as gifted amateurs, who rely on expert input when formulating policy. Science, technology and engineering companies are all well-placed to offer expertise - whether this is on improving healthcare interventions, strengthening public sector cybersecurity or the future of the UK’s full fibre infrastructure.

The importance of ethics

According to the CIPR, at the heart of every ethical public affairs campaign is transparency, integrity and access to the democratic process. Importantly, the campaign must be free from any inducements or conflicts of interest. These principles are codified in the CIPR’s publicly accessible code of conduct.

Amidst the negative lobbying headlines, the CIPR has launched a Lobbying for Good Lobbying campaign, which calls for “reform to build greater transparency and openness in our democratic process”.

Let’s take integrity and transparency as starting points. Every campaign must be based on facts, sound evidence and practical experience - principles that are the foundation of scientific research and innovation.

Getting started

There are many mechanisms for passing on your knowledge to the powers that be. Presenting evidence to a relevant parliamentary committee is one option. Another is submitting research on a certain topic so that Parliament can produce a POSTnote. Just a casual peruse shows that recent POSTnote topics range from net zero planning to heat pumps to hypersonic missiles - so don’t worry, your expertise isn’t too niche.

Identifying interested parties and contacts as early as possible will help shape your overall public affairs strategy. In the UK, lobbyists have a smorgasbord of MPs, councillors, trade bodies, government ministers, Lords and parliamentary select committees as possible contacts to reach out to. We’d recommend starting with relevant ministers and local MPs, using this as a foundation for contacting relevant trade bodies and committee members.

Monitoring the ever-changing political situation, checking daily statements and releases from Parliament, Whitehall, the EU, political parties and other organisations can ensure that your public affairs strategy evolves with the times.

If you want to dip your toes into the world of lobbying, we recommend working with industry-specific public affairs professionals that can deliver a strong, ethical strategy that provides exactly what policymakers are looking for - it’s a shame Mr Cameron didn’t do the same.

Article written by Martin Deakin account manager at technology PR agency Stone Junction

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