David Cameron's links to Greensill have brought the issue of lobbying back into the spotlight. Next month the Committee on Standards will be progressing its wide-ranging inquiry into All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) – the informal cross-party organisations run by and for MPs. Many choose to bring in organisations from outside Parliament to administer their activities.
The early stages of the resumed inquiry will focus on the risks of APPGs being used as a vehicle for improper access or influence. It's the first investigation of its kind since the last Standards Committee probe in 2013; since then the number of such groups have ballooned further, with more than 700 APPGs now active across Parliament. Mr S therefore thought it was time to take a look at which firms are providing secretarial support for the most APPGs, according to parliament's own register.
Heading the list is Connect, co-owned by former Labour MP Andy Sawford, with a whopping 11 groups ranging from apprenticeships to 'working at height' and including the devolution, district councils and West Midlands bodies. Sawford served as a director of the communications agency for four years prior to his election to Parliament at a by-election in 2012. He rejoined the company as CEO just a month after losing his seat, three years later.
Next up is Policy Connect, chaired by current Labour MP Barry Sheerman, with nine APPGs including manufacturing, design and innovation and skills, careers and employment. In 2017, Sheerman was forced to become the first serving politician to be officially registered as a lobbyist. The firm helps to arrange All-Party Parliamentary Group meetings which bring together paying clients and sitting MPs and Ministers to discuss topical issues, often in Parliament.
Taking the bronze is Healthcomms Consulting, a specialist firm which runs six health-related APPGs on topics like women's health, obesity and sepsis. The firm was founded by former lobbyist Tory MP Paul Bristow, whose spouse remains a director, and has offered clients services including 'NHS market access' and 'parliamentary awareness'. The company says the APPGs it works with 'lobby Ministers directly, as well as arranging meetings with NHS England, Health Education England and Public Health England'.
Three Lines Sport is detailed as providing the secretariat for only four APPGs – motorsport, football, golf, snooker – but lists the firm's director Mark Ramsdale as the point of contact for two more: rowing, e-sports and darts. Tory MP Karl McCartney is the chair or vice-chair of each of these, with the Daily Mirror last month reporting a row over the firm's management of Parliament's football team. Devoconnect is listed for five APPGs plus the Net Zero group via its Vision10 campaign.
The College Green Group, Tendo Consulting and Results UK meanwhile run four apiece. College Green, founded by Vote Leave's chief technology officer Thomas Borwick, claims on its website that 'under 10 per cent of APPGs currently achieve their full potential,' and offers parliamentarians the chance to 'let us catapult your APPG to the top of the league table' by creating 'a coalition of organisations and businesses as affiliates or supporters to recruit sponsors.'
Nice work if you can get it.