WEDNESDAY 24 MAR 2010 5:24 PM


Government-funded quangos, recipients of £80 billion of public expenditure, have been banned from using public money to hire lobbying, public affairs and PR advisers. The ban, announced in the Chancellor’s Budget statement, will affect 750 delivery agencies and executive bodies that are commonly referred to as arm’s-length bodies or ALBs.

The role of ALBs, in general terms, is to distribute funding and monitor performance across government and their roles range from funding arts and helping jobseekers to regulating businesses. The number has grown considerably over the years, and a major review took place last year with rationalisation plans already in place to reduce their number by 25%. The budget looks to trim £3 billion from existing costs, but whether these savings include the exisiting rationalisation plans are not clear. The budget states that some of the savings will come from limiting “the use of lobbying and public relations consultants by ALBs”.

However, the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) was quick to castigate the announcement. Francis Ingham, the PRCA’s director general, commented: “Politicians on all sides are electioneering. They are chasing votes with proposals that will do nothing to help the country. The issue is with greedy and corrupt MPs and all parties should stop pretending otherwise. We are inviting all parties to work with us to mend a broken system.”

The supplementary document to the Budget has demanded that “ALBs must not use public funds to employ external public affairs or other consultants to lobby Parliament or Government with the principal aim of altering government policy or to obtain increased funding.”

However, according to Ben Atfield of Ellwood and Atfield, a headhunter in the public affairs and government relations sectors, too much focus was spent on the issue of advisers altering government policy. “The occasional hiring of external advisers reflects the fragmented and poor quality of communication and direction from their particular ministerial leaders. More often than not, such external advisers are brought in to try and help understand and flesh out exactly what a particular NDPB’s [non-departmental public body] political masters, senior civil servants as well as ministers, actually want them to achieve. Its a phenomena born of Central Government not wasteful quangos”.

Questions have also been raised as to how effective the new measures will be. John Lehal of Insight Public Affairs believes that the ruling is both disproportionate and unlikely to succeed. "It's using a sledgehammer to crack a nut,” he says. “Most public sector organisations are already scaling back on communications budgets anyway, and what's more, while you could limit spend on lobbying services, it's likely lobbying would reappear under 'stakeholder management ' and 'strategic communications' budgets. Bashing lobbyists might be en vogue but a knee-jerk reaction to a few bad headlines is hardly likely to deliver good long-term policy-making."

Of the 750 ALBs affected:
43 are grant-giving organisations, responsible for funding to frontline organisations or individuals. These include the Higher Education Funding Council and the regional development agencies
145 are service delivery bodies including Jobcentre Plus and the National Offender Management Service
54 are regulators, for example Ofsted and the Pensions Regulator
438 are advisory bodies such as the Low Pay Commission
35 are tribunals providing an appeal system against administrative acts or decisions. Examples include the Pensions Ombudsman and the Police Arbitration Tribunal.