Posts Tagged ‘Conferences’

Private Eye on A4E Lobbying at 2013 Lib Dem Conference

February 19, 2015

I also found this story in Private Eye’s issue for the 18th to 31st October 2013.

McNally Pally: How Lobbying Works

Documents released to Private Eye under freedom of information show how scandal-hit welfare-to-work contractor A4E used last year’s Lib Dem party conference in Brighton to get around obstructive civil servants and arrange an official meeting to lobby justice minister Lord McNally directly over probably contracts.

Along with other “workfare” providers, last year A4e wrote to all Ministry of Justice (MoJ) ministers asking for a meeting as the department made plans to privatise the probation service and dole out some very big contracts.

Given that at the time A4e was facing allegations of fraud (these led to nine former employees being charged last month) senior MoJ civil servant Jenny Giblett was not keen.

“From our perspective there would be no specific need for a meeting,” she wrote. In particular, she highlighted “presentation and media handling” issues since “A4e suffered some reputational damage in connection with the earlier allegations of fraud.” She stressed that meetings with ministers “are declared, and are the subject of repeated parliamentary questions and freedom of information requests”.

Justice secretary Chris Grayling and two of his ministers declined to meet A4e. But an anguished civil servant revealed: “Lord McNally has let me know this morning that he agreed whilst he was at Lib Dem Conference to meet with XXX for A4e.”

The firm’s Lobbyist had already used the conference, where ministers are free of their civil servants, to extract a promise of a full meeting with the minister in his office. Though Lord McNally was advised of the ministry’s position and the possible pitfalls, he made “very clear that he is going to meet with XXX of A4e, as he promised …”

One civil servant’s email reads: “He is going to need some very robust advice if we think he shouldn’t proceed with a meeting. Lord McNally has been chased directly by A4e twice already.” Another said: “If we’re going to convince him not to do it (which it seems to me we should!), I’m going to need to give him some more robust arguments. Do you think you could outline in an email the reasons you think such a meeting would be ill-advised.”

In the event the official Whitehall meeting went ahead. By nabbing Lord McNally at the party conference, A4E was able to overcome its “fraud” issues and gain official access to the MoJ ahead of other companies.

The record of the Whitehall meeting last November says A4e’s lobbyists expressed “concern that the level of risk organisations are being asked to take, at least initially, should not be too burdensome” for probation contracts, and tried to talk down “the risk of huge penalties for initial failure to meet targets” on such contracts, which Lord McNally said he “understood”.

This shows how the workfare companies continue to get contracts: through very aggressive lobbying, aided and abetted by politicians, who have absolutely no qualms about talking to a firm mired in a corruption scandal. And it all tells you all you need to know about the ‘business-friendly’ Lib Dems that McNally ‘understood’ A4e’s demands to have as little risk put on their shoulders as possible. It’s an attitude that has seen the taxpayer continually picking up the tab for late and shoddy work in other parts of the public-private partnership system.