As the government launched its consultation on the proposed Register of Lobbyists on Friday, the National Council of Voluntary Organisations warned that “smaller organisations should not be dissuaded from engaging with the political system”.
Responding to the consultation, which will assess the possible impact of a statutory register of lobbyists, NCVO said that while it could see a necessity to regulate lobbying activity, it is “important to strike the right balance between promoting transparency and introducing any new bureaucratic burden”.
The umbrella body has launched its own consultation to run concurrently with the government’s official consultation, which invites responses until 13 April 2012.
“NCVO will be consulting our members on the appropriate model in order to ensure that lobbying activity is open, transparent and consistent in order to maintain high levels of public trust and confidence,” reads the NCVO statement, which advises that smaller organisations in particular are at risk of disengaging with the political system under the proposals.
Lobbying is currently unregulated in the UK. While a voluntary register held by the UK Public Affairs Council was launched in 2010, a statutory register of lobbyists would require any organisation or individual to be registered before their lobby will be considered by the government. The purpose, says the government, is to “increase transparency by making available to the public, to decision-makers and to other interested parties authoritative and easily-accessible information about who is lobbying for whom”. The register will not, however, apply to interaction between constituents and their MPs, nor to the normal interaction between charities or community organisations and the government.
Registration fee would apply
The register would be established and operated by an independent body and funded by registration fees. While the summary of the possible impact of the statutory register advises that micro-businesses and start-ups would be likely be exempt, it does not say the same for charities. Costs to organisations and individuals on the register are as yet unclear, the proposal advises “due to the broad nature of the consultation”. However it lists the cost felt by those on the General Dental Council’s (GDC) register as comparable. The GDC register charges £576 per annum for dentists and £120 for dental health professionals.
There is also a possible human resource implication with those on the statutory register being required to update their information on a quarterly basis. Details on the register will include names of individuals and companies carrying out lobbying, their clients’ names, information on the value of the work being carried out and a declaration of any public funding received. A penalty system for non-compliance is proposed, although the operator will not be given the power or responsibility to undertake audits of the information within the register.
While the NCVO is protective of the sector and any implications the proposals may have, it doesn't think that charities should be treated any differently under the system:
"We think that charities should be subject to the same rules and regulations as those employed for working for multi-client agencies. It is important we do not create a two-tier system," the umbrella body said.
The government consultation asks interested parties to answer the following questions:
- What the definitions of “lobbying”, “lobbyists” and the relevant “area of operations” in which lobbying takes place should be;
- Who should and should not be required to register;
- What information should be provided in the register;
- How often the register should be updated;
- Whether there should be any additional functions linked to the register;
- How the register should be funded;
- What sanctions should operate;
- Who should run the register
To respond to these questions email [email protected] marking your
response with Statutory Register of Lobbyists in the subject field of your email.