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Times journalists Alex Ralph, and Harry Wilson present and comment on material collected by the Times Data Team: Tom Wills, Ryan Watts, Kira Schacht. Links have been added by PCU’s editor to enable readers to learn more if they wish to do so.
“FTSE 100 groups, including banks, defence contractors, tobacco manufacturers and telecoms companies, have spent more than £24 million on lobbying in Brussels and about £335,000 funding all-party parliamentary groups in Westminster”.
They add: “There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing or rule-breaking by companies”.
FTSE 100 political spending (over the last two years)
The Times first focusses on All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs)
APPGs are run by and for Members of the Commons and Lords who join together to pursue a particular topic or interest. Many involve individuals and organisations from outside Parliament in their administration and activities – or as the journalists put it, “help to push industry agendas in parliament”. Read more here.
Unsurprisingly, BAE Systems, which spent £37,000 on a group “to promote better understanding of the Her Majesty’s armed forces in parliament”, is among the biggest backers of the parliamentary groups.
The writers comment that parliamentary groups have proved contentious because of the large amounts spent on reports that often support the views of industry and which grant access to parliament for companies and lobbyists.
BT’s £53,000 included backing the parliamentary internet, communications and technology forum, known as Pictfor, whose members include Tom Watson, the Labour deputy leader and Lord Birt, former Blair adviser and director-general of the BBC. A list of funders may be seen here.
Note: ’Donations to APPGs’ shows spending between Jan 2015 and Mar 2017 as declared on the Register of APPGs. ’Spend on EU lobbying’ shows companies’ minimum estimates for the most recent financial year declared on the EU Transparency Register at the time of research. Here is a snapshot taken from one of 10 pages listing donations/other spending and the companies’ rationales for these sums being given.
The Times’ second focus is on the denial of information to shareholders
Less than £10,000 of identified political and lobbying spending in the EU was disclosed to shareholders in the companies’ recent annual reports. ompanies are not required to disclose details to shareholders and little information on corporate political and lobbying activities is revealed in annual reports, which are published before shareholder meetings. The tens of millions of euros spent each year in the EU go largely undeclared to shareholders.
Corporate Europe, which campaigns for greater transparency in EU decision making, has spent years tracking how the business world moulds policy.
Vicky Cann, the group’s UK representative, said that the banking and energy industries were the most active lobbyists. “The financial services industry is a huge spender and even then we think the real scope of their spending is probably bigger than we can currently see,” she said. Her colleague gave the example of recent emissions legislation that was the subject of intense lobbying by BP and Shell.
As Peter van Veen, director of business integrity at Transparency International, said, “Corporate transparency over political activities is important to ensure the public can have the confidence that their politicians and industry leaders are conducting business ethically . . . If companies are not voluntarily willing to disclose their political activities and funding of these, then stronger legislation should be considered and a possible starting point may be to broaden the definition of political activities and expenditure in the Companies Act 2006.”
Posted in Arms trade, Banking, Banking and finance, Conflict of interest, Corporate political nexus, Defence, Democracy undermined, Economy, Energy, EU, Finance, Government, Lobbying, Media, MPs, Parliamentary failure, Reward for failure, Secret State, Trade, Transport, Vested interests, warfare
Tags: APPGs, BAE systems, Banks, Baron Birt, BP, Corporate Europe, corporate shareholders, corporate transparency, defence contractors, EU, FTSE 100 groups, MP Tom Watson, Shell, telecoms companies, tobacco manufacturers, Transparency International, Westminster
A new year wish for our malign corporate sponsored plutocracy to wither and be replaced by true democracy
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At present, as MP John Cryer explained:
“There’s a far too close relationship between the corporate world, lobbying, the city, big financial interests, big business and the heart of government.
It’s an access and an influence that isn’t available to resident associations, trade unions.
Ordinary citizens don’t have that sort of access . . .”
Campaign group ALT adds: “Right now lobbying happens in secret: we don’t know who is being paid to influence our government, its policies, our laws, and how public money is spent, whether it’s the private healthcare lobby pushing for the current NHS reforms; or banks lobbying against reform of the financial system; or the construction industry wanting to get their hands on greenbelt land, the activities of lobbyists affect our lives in countless ways”.
A step forward? Jim Pickard, political correspondent of the Financial Times, reports that a new regime monitored by a compulsory register for lobbyists will be introduced within a few weeks. But lobbying – and political influence bought by donations to political parties – are not the only problems.
The revolving door
For years CAAT has diligently recorded interchange of employees between government and the arms industry, known as the revolving door, drawing on the website of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA). See its latest findings here.
Lucrative employment offers
There is a half-way version of this – a foot in both doors – when large corporations offer directorships and other salaried positions to senior civil servants, politicians and their family members, while still in post.
The taxpayer pays corporate staff to work in government – standard practice
There is evidence of this influence in other sectors – most obviously in those of health and biotechnology. Today a Shirley reader adds news of the latest concern in the energy industry.
Damian Carrington (opposite) reports that MP Caroline Lucas and others made Freedom of Information requests which revealed that 23 employees from companies including British Gas and npower are working at the Department of Energy and, in most cases, are being paid by the government. Oil companies such as Shell and Conoco Phillips also have staff inside the department, and civil servants have travelled in the opposite direction to work for the companies. Government comment: this is standard practice . . . self regulation ensures no conflict of interest . . .
Joss Garman, political director of Greenpeace, says that corporations making huge profits from the fossil fuels have “a clear financial interest in putting their people into key positions where they can exert a malign influence that runs counter to the public interest.”
Senator Michael Bennet introduced the Close the Revolving Door Act of 2010 to end lobbyist abuses, and get Congress back on track to move America forward. It was not enacted, but we can still hope that John Cryer, Caroline Lucas or some other honest parliamentarian will gather sufficient support for a similar bill to be passed in this country.