Ministers are prepared to use their powers to stop local authorities that are paying lobbyists in potential non-compliance with the Code of recommended practice on local authority publicity, Eric Pickles has warned.
In a written Parliamentary statement, the Communities Secretary said it had come to his attention that a number of councils might be in breach of the Code.
The powers for ministers to take action are contained in the Local Government Act 1986, as amended by the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014.
“I hope this sends a clear signal how this government will stand up and protect the interests of taxpayers, and rein in the spendthrift practices of state bureaucracy,” Pickles said.
In the same statement the Communities Secretary revealed that the Department for Communities and Local Government would now include an anti-lobbying clause in its standard grant agreements.
The new clause will read: “The following costs are not eligible expenditure: payments that support activity intended to influence or attempt to influence Parliament, government or political parties, or attempting to influence the awarding or renewal of contracts and grants, or attempting to influence legislative or regulatory action.”
Pickles said he hoped the clause could and would be rolled out more widely across the public sector.
The Secretary of State meanwhile attacked the “small number” of local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) – at least six – that had also been hiring public affairs consultancies to lobby the Government and Parliament.
“Using taxpayers’ funds to lobby government wastes public money and undermines transparency,” he argued.
“Such lobbying will not expand the quantum of public funding available to local enterprise partnerships. Unless action is taken, more local enterprise partnerships may feel pressured to follow suit, diverting taxpayers’ money away from enterprise and regeneration.”
The Communities Secretary continued: “It is the firm view of the Government that the same principles should apply to local enterprise partnerships, as councils and quangos.
“Local enterprise partnerships should not be hiring lobbyists to influence the awarding or renewal of contracts and grants, or to attempt to influence legislative or regulatory action. This covers lobbying in the broadest sense, as defined in the Cabinet Office guidance. Any local enterprise partnerships which currently have hired lobbyists should terminate their contracts. They should pick up the phone instead.”
Greg Clark, the Minister for Universities, Science and Cities, will be writing to LEPs on the issue shortly, Pickles said.