In the news this week there was an excellent piece by journalist Martin Shipton on what appears to be a scandal at the Senedd.
Mark Drakeford has ordered an inquiry into ministers’ dinner with Green Man festival boss and a lobbyist. Welsh Government aim to spend £4.25m of public money on a farm in Powys for the Green Man festival.
The dinner attended by Welsh Government ministers Julie James and Jeremy Miles was hosted by lobbyist Cathy Owens. The boss of the Green Man festival Fiona Stewart was also present.
What is wrong with that? A simple dinner with invited guests?
Cathy Owens is the managing director of Deryn Consulting and has the Green Man Festival as one of her company’s clients. One could speculate that conversation around the dining table was nothing more than children, holidays, the crisis in Ukraine and the best places for coffee etc. That could be an entirely innocent and but naive speculation only.
Because of a loophole in the Welsh Government’s Ministerial Code under which “informal” meetings do not have to be declared, Climate Change Minister Julie James and Education Minister Jeremy Miles were not obliged to declare their attendance at the dinner. There is nothing in law or otherwise apart from courtesy, which obliges the attendees to divulge what was said at that dinner. Nothing to see or hear here then?
Not so as First Minister Mark Drakeford has ordered an inquiry. A spokesman for the First Minister said: “While ministers attended this social event in a personal capacity, the First Minister has asked the Permanent Secretary to look into the circumstances surrounding their attendance.
“The First Minister has also asked the Permanent Secretary to consider if any amendments need to be made to the Ministerial Code to ensure all interaction with lobbyists is appropriately recorded.”
Paragraph 3.7 of the Ministerial Code states: “Ministers should not meet formally with professional public affairs organisations (lobbyists) seeking to influence the views or decisions of Government.”
England Ireland and Scotland already have a register:
REGISTRATION OF CONSULTANT LOBBYISTS
Requirement to register
1 Prohibition on consultant lobbying unless registered
(1) A person must not carry on the business of consultant lobbying unless the
person is entered in the register of consultant lobbyists.
(2) Sections 3 to 7 make provision about the keeping and publication of the
What is a lobbyist?
According to the organisation Unlock Democracy and Spinwatch
They understand lobbying to be any form of communication with a public official with the intention of:
influencing a particular policy or position
seeking the award of a government contract or financial benefit
convincing an official to carry out parliamentary activity on your behalf
In the run-up to the 2021 Senedd election parties gave their stance on lobbying. Welsh Labour would be “entirely open” to introducing an official register of lobbyists if the party wins the Senedd election, the health minister said. Vaughan Gething made the pledge during a BBC Radio 4 debate, during which Plaid Cymru’s Delyth Jewell said she backed an official register.
Conservative Senedd leader Andrew RT Davies said lobbying needed to be addressed across all parliaments.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats’ Jane Dodds said “more transparency” was needed.
Neil McEvoy of Propel said “Corporate lobbying is when lobbyists are paid to influence or ‘lobby’ politicians and legislation on behalf of clients. Welsh lobbying companies have been involved in recent scandals in Wales.”
In recent months farmers have been critical over the buying up of productive farmland by Welsh Government in order to plant trees. This according to Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, ‘is a blow to people trying to get into the agriculture business as the Welsh Government buys up a productive farm which most farmers could only dream of’.
Andrew Slade, director-general of the economy department, said the purpose of buying the farm was about “the wider business and development of the wider Green Man business”, adding that it would include sustainable development work, farming activities and a “range of other things that would allow them to keep the operation in Wales”.
No stranger to controversy Neil McEvoy was thrown out of Plaid Cymru and started a new party ‘Propel’. Propel has stated it will implement tough control of lobbying. Propel’s Contract with Wales includes a Public Services Accountability Act, with rules on corporate lobbying a key element.
The Act reads that Propel will, “ Enact a mandatory lobbying register, meaning all corporate lobbyists must record details of their lobbying, its purpose, their clients and how much money was involved.”
Corporate lobbying is when lobbyists are paid to influence or ‘lobby’ politicians and legislation on behalf of clients. Welsh lobbying companies have been involved in recent scandals in Wales.
Leader of Propel Neil McEvoy said,
“Uncontrolled lobbying is a cancer at the heart of Welsh public life. Our Parliament must clean up Cardiff Bay. Too much goes on behind closed doors. A select bunch of people have hijacked devolution and are milking it for all it is worth. This must be addressed.”
McEvoy asked eerious questions about the role of Welsh lobbying firm Deryn in the sacking of Carl Sargeant, who later tragically took his own life. The Welsh Conservatives Leader, Andrew RT Davies, claimed in the Senedd that Deryn knew of Carl Sargeant’s sacking before it happened and had already briefed journalists.
Blogger Jac o’ the North has been following a number of alleged scandals involving organisations and lobbyists in Wales. His view is:
“We see here the fundamental and uncomfortable truth about third sector lobbyists in Wales.
“Identify or invent a ‘problem’ in order to get funding. Then, with the help of an ever-compliant media and understanding politicians, the ‘problem’ must persist – to guarantee continued funding!
“Let the good times roll!
“I’m sure these minimalist filings are perfectly legal, but I believe that with companies such as Deryn and Camlas exercising unaccountable influence in Welsh public life we are entitled to know more about them.”
Unlock Democracy and Spinwatch recommend that the Welsh Assembly introduces a comprehensive statutory register of lobbyists.
They state: “We believe that lobbying is part of a healthy pluralist democracy, however, problems arise when lobbying activity is not transparent or subject to scrutiny from the public and the Welsh Assembly. Policymakers and those seeking to influence them should be accountable for their actions.”
The jury is out until the inquiry concludes but one can speculate that the halcyon days for lobbyists is coming to an end in Wales.