Aug 2009 03
The new TaxPayers' Alliance report Taxpayer funded lobbying and political campaigning reveals the extent of taxpayer funded lobbying and political campaigning in the UK.  The Conservatives have pledged to stop public bodies spending taxpayers’ money on lobbying, and this report reveals for the first time that over £37 million a year is spent by Government on lobbying and political campaigning.  
The full report can be downloaded here.

The key findings are:

Over £37 million was spent on taxpayer funded lobbying and political campaigning in 2007-08.  This report’s estimate is composed of (a) public sector bodies spending on lobbying, by hiring political consultants and funding trade associations, and (b) funding of nominally independent political campaigns and think tanks.  That is almost as much as the £38.9 million all three major political parties combined spent through their central campaigns at the 2005 election. 
The report is a conservative estimate of the total spend because does not include the huge amounts spent by councils and other public sector bodies on publicity, a certain proportion of which goes on lobbying.  Instead, it focuses on the amounts spent hiring external lobbying and public affairs support:

  • Public sector organisations spent over £4 million on hiring political consultancies.  More than twice the amount found in earlier research by the Conservative Party.
  • 77 public sector organisations were found to be spending on political consultancies.
  • 13 consultancies received more than £100,000 in payments from public sector organisations.
  • 3 trade associations have a combined taxpayer funded income of more than £23 million (Local Government Association, Association of Police Authorities and NHS Confederation).

The report also looks at the amount of taxpayers' money given by public sector organisations (including the EU) to nominally independent groups, whose primary focus is campaigning for policy change, including political campaigns, lobby groups, think tanks and charities:

  • Nearly £1.8 million is spent on health policy campaigns, including £515,000 paid to Alcohol Concern, £191,000 paid to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and £130,000 paid to the Family Planning Association.
  • Environmental policy campaigns received over £6.7 million, including funding for the Sustainable Development Commission, Friends of the Earth, the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences and numerous other groups.
  • Using Freedom of Information requests to key quangos and government departments, the report found £1.6 million in taxpayer funding for major think tanks – Demos, the New Economics Foundation; the Institute for Public Policy Research and the New Local Government Network.
  • The New Economics Foundation, which was paid £601,518 in 2007-08, is responsible for the Happy Planet Index, which places Saudi Arabia and Burma above the United Kingdom and Sweden in terms of “achieving, long, happy lives without over-stretching the planet’s resources”.
  • Some of these organisations make misleading claims about their funding.  For example, the Institute of Alcohol Studies claims “We are lucky in being one of the few organisations that do not depend on the Government or the alcohol industry for funds – so that we can be an independent voice on alcohol policy.”  They have received taxpayers' money directly and through the Alliance House Foundation. 

Funding of lobbying and political campaigning by government bodies has a number of negative effects:

  • It distorts the public policy process in favour of the interests and perspectives of a narrow political elite.
  • It slows adjustments in the direction of policy in response to changing circumstances.
  • It increases political apathy among the public, particularly because taxpayers are forced to fund views they may seriously disagree with.

The solution proposed is simple:

1. Taxpayer funding of lobbying and political campaigning should be entirely abolished, building on the example set by the Byrd Amendment in the United States. 

2. Full transparency of all public spending should be implemented, to reassure taxpayers that none of their money is being diverted by stealth.
The full report can be downloaded here.
Matthew Sinclair, Research Director at the TaxPayers' Alliance, said:

"It is shocking that such a large amount of taxpayers' money is being spent by Governement lobbying the Government. It is wasteful for quangos to hire lobbyists in order to persuade government to increase their budgets, and it is morally wrong for Government to bankroll political allies. Channelling taxpayers' money to supposedly independent organisations raises the danger that the Government has effectively bought external support for their own policies."

+++ UPDATE +++

Scottish Enterprise alerted us to an error in their response to our Freedom of Information request. Scottish Enterprise provided information not about the public affairs firm "Stratagem", as we requested, but the management consultancy "Strategem".  We have updated the press release and full report in light of their correction. 

It is important to be clear that this does not constitute an error on the part of the TPA and reflects in no way on the broader reliability of the report. The TPA attempted to verify Scottish Enterprise's FoI response following receipt, but they confirmed the figure.