Lobbying isn't always done in public

March 2017 - Allan Richards has been looking at some of the less publicised corners of the charity lobbying business.

The dark art of political lobbying is probably regarded as a necessity by major charities but it is not so much the public contacts with politicians as the murky, behind-the-scenes contacts that are fascinating.

Whilst C&RT rolled out the red carpet in Birmingham for a visit by Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey in Birmingham recently (Photo-opportunities and making the most of maintenance - 22/2/2017), it appears to have attempted to keep another MP’s visit out of the public eye.

The visit by the Environment Minister was headlined as ‘Government minister meets Birmingham's waterway heroes’ and played heavily on the difference that volunteers were making in Birmingham.

Amongst, those assembled for a photo were West Midlands Regional Manager, Ian Lane and Partnership Chairman, Peter Mathews. ​

However, in January, another MP important to C&RT’s future visited West Midlands Region. This time there were no volunteers, no regional manager and no partnership chair. Indeed, there were no winter works - which is what he said he came to see - at Hatton. They had finished before Christmas!

Chris White, Conservative MP for Warwick & Leamington might not be a familiar name to boaters but he was appointed as chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group(APPG) for Waterways in October 2016 (not 2015 as claimed in his blog).

APPG’s are informal cross-party groups that have no official status within Parliament. They are run by and for Members of the Commons and Lords, though many choose to involve individuals and organisations from outside Parliament in their administration and activities.

The purpose of the APPG for waterways was ‘To consider matters relating to the system of navigable rivers and canals in the UK, estuaries and lakes upon which boating takes place, and associated activities. The coast and open sea are specifically excluded from the interests of the group.’

With Chris Whites appointment, came a change of purpose. It is now ‘To consider matters relating to navigable (and formerly navigable) rivers, canals, estuaries and lakes in the UK, including the potential social, economic and cultural impact of the regeneration of those waterways and extension of the system’.

Secretarial functions and a public enquiry point for the APPG for Waterways is provided by the IWA.

In April 2013, the APPG for Waterways produced a ‘Report into the Inquiry into the Progress and Future Aims of the Canal & River Trust Waterway Partnerships’.

Just over a year later, in August 2014, a further report was produced. This one was called ‘Report from the Inquiry into the Progress and Future of the Canal and River Trust’.

One of the themes for both reports was that Waterways Partnerships should become financially self-reliant and progress to attract income for the projects they carried out. The reports provided three related recommendations -

· To ensure that Partnerships have clarity of their financial role and that revenue from the Partnerships beyond their operating costs are used within that Partnership's region.

· Waterway Partnerships should approach LEPs [Local Enterprise Partnerships], Las [Local Authorities], the business community and other bodies to develop joint bids for funding and secure support for the Waterway Partnerships and its projects.

· Waterway Partnerships should continue to develop relationships with LAs, LEPs and the local business community with an aim to be self-funded in all their activities by the end of 2014.

As recorded in the later report, both NABO and IWA expressed the view ‘there is little evidence, if any, that appreciable new funding streams are being channelled into the waterways through engagement with local commerce or councils’.

Unfortunately, instead of becoming self-funded by the end of 2014, the Partnerships are now offered money by C&RT to use in undertaking C&RT defined projects simply so that they can put their name to them.

The IWA was invited to comment on the fact that APPG Waterways have not undertaken further work to determine why their recommendations were not carried out.

It responded ‘The APPG reports referred to were published in previous Parliaments by a different set of MPs and Peers; the current APPG is yet to determine if it wishes to follow up the recommendations’.

However, one must remember that the Waterways Minister responsible for the transfer from BW to C&RT, Richard Benyon, was appointed chair of the group shortly after the second report and is still a vice chair.

Perhaps, it not in the interest of Mr Benyon or the Conservatives for the group to look at how the partnerships are now functioning.

With five out of eight APPG members being Conservatives, it is quite possible that the previous reports will be quietly forgotten.

However, there is an altogether more sinister aspect to the Trust not wishing Chris White's meeting with C&RT to be made public.

Chris White is not only chair of the APPG for Waterways, he is Co-Chair for manufacturing, Co-Chair for video games and Co-Chair for Charities and Volunteering. That’s four APPG groups that he chairs.

He is also a Vice Chair of Policy Connect (2015/16 turnover £1.2m), a company which asks for payments of between £175 and £20,000 to become a member.

Membership of Policy Connect allows companies to attend events and meetings in parliament, some of which are attended by ministers. Policy Connect also acts as secretariat or public enquiry point for several APPG’s

Recently, Alison White (no relation), the registrar of consultant lobbyists, interviewed officials from all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs) after receiving reports that unregistered lobbyists are acting as secretaries to gain access to legislators. She later met with representatives of Policy Connect.

IWA and Policy Connect are not registered as lobbyists with both claiming they are exempt.

Photos: (1st) Alison White - looking at lobbyists, (2nd) Chris White MP and boss of a business linked to parliamentary groups, (3rd) The formal visit with Partnership chair Peter Matthews (circled left) and Waterways Manager Ian Lane(circled right) in atytendencde.

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