In the dark, dark world of politics there's an even darker corner populated by what is known as the PR and lobbying industry which aims to influence public policy. And any business that wants to influence what is going on in is sure to have such a company working on its behalf.
Peel Holdings uses Pendragon PR – "Experts in community and stakeholder consultation to help make developers heard and influence local opinion during planning, development, construction and regeneration projects". This cuddly company threatened the Salford Star following an article over Peel's attempts to stick an incinerator on the banks of the Ship Canal recently.
Peel Holdings also tried to influence the result of local council elections in Salford during the congestion charge campaign, offering the services of lobbyists to opposition candidates in what the then Salford Council Leader John Merry called "an abuse of democracy…trying to buy an election"… (see here)
Meanwhile, before proposals to build an incinerator on Green Lane were made public, the Star received a "background briefing re a proposal for a multi-million pound Eco Park - a state-of-the-art recycling and renewable energy facility" from SKV Communications on behalf of SKY Properties, its developer. The incinerator is now the subject of protests from the community, with an inquiry going on this month.
SKV Communications was formerly known as Spin Media, which `lobbied' for the new Salford City Reds Stadium way back in 2004. Spin Media was behind the Salford Stadium `ave it' campaign and even wrote letters in support of the Stadium which featured in the local papers. None of which were signed `Spin Media, getting paid to work on behalf of John Wilkinson and Salford City Reds'. Spin Media subsequently won a Gold PR award for its `persuasion' efforts.
These are just a few examples from Salford that have come to light in the murky world of PR and lobbying. Nationally, the lobbying industry alone is said to be worth almost £2billion. It's a huge and growing industry that goes on largely in secret.
There's now calls for the curtains to be opened on lobbying and for a register of companies to be published, containing information on who they are, what they are lobbying for and the amount of money being spent on their projects.
The Salford Star believes that Mr Ian Stewart Mayor, who had `transparency' as one of his core policies during his recent election campaign, should now make officers and councillors disclose all meetings and communications with PR and lobbying companies…
The problem is that big business has wads of money to throw at `influence' - PR campaigns, commissioning research, corporate hospitality etc – but the community doesn't have those resources. Which is why, inevitably, the community's voice rarely gets heard in policy and development issues. And is one of the reasons why the Salford Star, with its meagre resources, exists.
This Friday, two top organisations that are trying to make corporate lobbying more transparent - Spinwatch and Unlock Democracy - will have speakers at a public debate called Open Up Lobbying, hosted by the Greater Democracy for Greater Manchester group. Two Greater Manchester MPs, Michael Meacher and John Leech, will also be speaking.
"How 'big money' influences politics has become a crucial issue during this period of cuts; who gets their share of the cake have never been more important" says Peter Facey, Director of Unlock Democracy "There are real concerns that the government proposals for shining a light on the lobbying industry do not go far enough. I hope people will come to this meeting to discover more about what can be done about it."
Greater Manchester for Greater Democracy coordinator Peter Davidson adds:
"Following the recent 'cash for access' scandal and ongoing controversy surrounding BSkyB, this is a particularly topical time to be debating these issues. I hope local people will want to attend to inform themselves about the issues and have their say."
Open Up Lobbying
Friday 15 June, 7pm - 9pm free
Friends' Meeting House, 6 Mount Street, Manchester M2 5NS
Speakers include Greater Manchester MPs Michael Meacher and John Leech Tamasin Cave, director of Spinwatch and Peter Facey, director of Unlock Democracy. The event will be chaired by Colin Talbot, Professor of Public Policy and Management at Manchester Business School.
Further details at www.unlockdemocracy.org.uk or click here