Monday, 6 September 2010

Circular lobbying - is it right for the public sector to lobby itself?

In the North East we have two regional health offices that are increasingly concerning me. Fresh North East, the regional Smoke Free service and Balance North East, the regional alcohol office. Both do good work in terms of raising the risks of smoking and excessive drinking with the public. However, both of these agencies encourage you to lobby central government through your MP.

Fresh have no current campaigns but Balance have a widget for you to send a pre-written email to your MP and MEPs campaigning for a minimum price on alcohol.

Now I have no issue with these issues being raised but as an example, Balance is funded by the Police, PCTs, the Department of Health and the Home Office. Essentially they are being funded these bodies to get you to lobby your MP to put pressure on the Departments in question to bring forward legislation. The ideas may have some merit and it is perfectly fine for people to write to their MP about them. I know that some will say that the Alcohol and Tobacco lobbies have far more money and resources so this is an attempt to redress the balance.

Sometimes it is OK for one branch of government to lobby others, for example for the Local Government Association to put the case for more local government powers to the Department for Communities and Local Government. But I object to this circular lobbying where departmental funding directly finances the lobbying of themselves. Even the Primary Care trusts and Police forces though lack democratic legitimacy and are essentially just a local division of the ministry in question. In this time of tight government budgets it is particularly wrong.

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