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Guidance update – January 2020

The Registrar is today publishing an updated guidance document on registration and Quarterly Information Returns, which both reflects the results of his consultation on registerable activity and codes of conduct, and incorporates the previously separate specialist guidance for think tanks and providers of support services to APPGs. The updated guidance can be found here.

Note from the new Registrar

As the newly appointed Registrar I am looking forward to working with all those with
an interest in the transparency of the work of consultant lobbyists with Ministers and
Permanent Secretaries on behalf of clients.

My core statutory focus is on maintaining an accurate register and I am encouraged
that the overwhelming majority of those who are required to register or provide
information do so. The Office of the Registrar and I will support compliance by being
responsive to enquiries and by providing clear guidance and I hope to use my
enforcement powers rarely.

I would like to thank my predecessor Alison White for her impressive work since
2014 in establishing Office of the Registrar and the register and then maintaining it
so effectively.

Harry Rich

Newsletter – September 2018

Personal note from the Registrar

This is my final week as Registrar – I will be standing down at the end of my term on 21 September. I will be handing over to my successor later this week, so there will be no discontinuity.

I would like to thank all registrants and stakeholders whom I have worked with during the past four years – it has been a pleasure and privilege working with you.

New team in the Office

There has been a refresh of the team in the Office, now led by Tony Bellringer. Tony is supported by Glenn Reed, Roger Winter and Ajeet (Sunny) Singh, though the overall staff complement remains the same.

Compliance guidance

This week, I am issuing a minimal refresh of my compliance guidance – I have updated for various changes (for example, in other guidance) to keep it current, and corrected a number of minor errors and typos. There are no changes of substance in the refreshed guidance.

Register update

The Registrar continues to keep multiple nil returns under constant review and regularly meets organisations who persistently file nil returns. The key issue for consideration is whether those organisations are likely to conduct relevant communications within the foreseeable future – the onus is on those organisations to convince the Registrar that this is the case.

The Registrar continues to conduct investigations to satisfy herself that all those organisations which should be on the Register, are indeed on it. Any information from registrants and stakeholders which inform those investigations is always welcomed, and acted upon.

Statement of Accounts

I laid my Statement of Accounts before Parliament on 19 July 2018, and a copy is available on my website, to be found at: https://registrarofconsultantlobbyists.org.uk/2017-2018-statement-of-accounts/

2017 – 2018 Statement of Accounts

On 19 July, following audit by the National Audit Office, the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists’ Statement of Accounts were laid before Parliament.

Statement of Accounts

Personal statement by the Registrar

I wish to confirm that I will be standing down from my role as Registrar at the end of my term of office on Friday 21 September 2018.

It has been a privilege to serve as Registrar for the past four years. I established the Register in very short timescales, which required the establishment of an entirely new technical system, interpretation of the Act, personally writing the associated guidance and building relationships with stakeholders. During the whole of my period in office, despite many opportunities to do so, I have made no comment about the legislation, keeping faith with what I said to the ministers who appointed me, and preserving the independence of my role.

There have been many challenges during this time, and it has been really difficult to maintain the Register, assure the quality of its content, provide confidence to stakeholders and ensure that all the requirements of the Registrar set out in the legislation have been achieved, and remain fresh in the minds of users.

I would like to thank all those that have supported me and my work during this period. I have valued the relationships I have built with registrants and stakeholders enormously.

My work as Registrar has formed part of my non-executive portfolio-over time, I had expected that it would form a smaller part, but in the event this did not happen. It is no longer possible for me to continue to commit as much time as is needed to my role as Registrar, and I have therefore decided not to seek a further term.

The appointment of my successor is a matter for the Cabinet Office, not for me.

ALISON J WHITE

Registrar

Newsletter – May 2018

Register update

There are currently 131 registrants on the Register-nine organisations have left the Register since the start of this calendar year for various reasons, and four have joined it.

Seven registrants submitted a nil return for the January to March period-the Registrar continues to keep multiple nil returns under constant review and regularly meets organisations who persistently file nil returns. The key issue for consideration is whether those organisations are likely to conduct relevant communications within the foreseeable future-the onus is on those organisations to convince the Registrar that this is the case.

The Registrar continues to conduct investigations to satisfy herself that all those organisations which should be on the Register, are indeed on it. Any information from registrants and stakeholders which inform those investigations is always welcomed, and acted upon.

General Data Protection Regulation-implications for the Office

I am today issuing a minimal update to my information retention and publication guidance which may be found here.

As Registrar, I collect only that information relevant to my statutory duties and publish the information set out in the Act. I retain information in the manner set out in my policy. I do not use information which I hold for any purpose other than those consistent with my statutory duties.

I have appointed a Data Protection Officer, and have undertaken to support him in the independent exercise of his statutory tasks.

During the course of this year, I am planning a technical refresh of the Register which will enable me to remove past data and provide snapshots of past information in the manner set out in my policy. This has some technical complexity, but it is part of my plan for the year ahead.

Business Plan 2018-19

I published my annual business plan on 10 May 2018 which sets out my plan for the next financial year. I anticipate year of business as usual, which includes education, communications and answering registrants’ questions; refreshing guidance; further modest investment in the technical development of the Register and website and using enforcement as a last resort. My business plan may be accessed here.

Conference of European Lobbying Registrars in Dublin

The Registrar attended a conference of European Lobbying registrars hosted by the Irish Lobbying registrar in Dublin on 21/22 March.

Representatives from France, Austria, Scotland, the EU and Lithuania gathered to review the current state of implementation of their registers and to share best practice in stakeholder engagement, compliance and measuring success.

Despite the differences in legislation and organisational approaches, a rare opportunity to learn from the experience of others and help to inform the future approach of the Office to education and communications, especially using social media is useful and will enrich the plans the Office has for the year ahead.

Newsletter – March 2018

Register Update

The start of any new calendar year is always the busiest time as the Office is not only processing quarterly returns, but also dealing with collection of the annual registration fee. There are currently 129 registrants on the Register-six were made inactive from 31 December, having decided that they were no longer conducting the business of consultant lobbying.

The Registrar extended the deadline for submission of quarterly returns until 22 January, due to the technical problems being experienced at the start of the year. However there were three registrants who failed to meet even that deadline. The Office issues warning letters to them; and where appropriate, the Registrar also speaks the organisations that miss the deadline. So far, it has not been considered necessary to consider enforcement action, but multiple transgressions could cause that to happen. It is not acceptable to miss deadlines-the Office takes a lot of trouble to remind registrants of the forthcoming submission deadline, and everyone should now know when the dates are. Please note that the next deadline for quarterly returns is fast approaching (14 April), and registrants should ensure that this date is in their office diaries.

Processing the annual fee has been a major challenge this year-once again the deadline was extended (to 31 January), and on that date, nearly a third of registrants had not paid their fee. In order to remain on the Register, the Registrar is entitled to impose charges and to treat non-payment of the renewal fee as reasonable grounds for believing that an organisation is not (or is no longer) a consultant lobbyist, otherwise the renewal fee would have been paid (Section 22 [4] of the Act). Those organisations which do not pay their fee by the due date and continue to conduct the business of consultant lobbying, are doing so unlawfully. Additionally, the Registrar has to consider whether the conduct of those organisation amounts to an offence under Section 12 (1) (a) of the Act, and whether to impose a civil penalty. Civil penalties have been imposed on organisations in the past for exactly this offence.

32 registrants submitted a nil return for the October-December period, of which 26 had previously declared three or more consecutive nil returns. The Registrar continues to keep multiple nil returns under constant review and regularly meets organisations who persistently file nil returns. The key issue for consideration is whether those organisations are likely to conduct relevant communications within the foreseeable future-the onus is on those organisations to convince the Registrar that this is the case. Registration is not a matter of personal choice-an organisation cannot be on the Register if it is not currently, or does not plan in the near future to, conduct the business of consultant lobbying.

Compliance Officers presentation

The Registrar presented a working session for users of the Register at a meeting facilitated by the PRCA and hosted by the Fleishman-Hillard Group on Tuesday 20 February. A copy of the slides can be found here.

The Registrar particularly highlighted those areas where over-declaration of clients has been a problem in the past and pointed out some of the potential pitfalls in making correct client declarations. In most instances, the reason for over-declaration falls into three categories:

  • drafting a letter for a client, which the client signs;
  • briefing a client for a meeting, which the consultant lobbyist does not attend; and
  • communications with a Minister’s office or secretary (even if asking for a message to be passed to the Minister).

None of these are registrable.

Registrants may find it helpful to refresh their knowledge of the Registrar’s Requirements to Register guidance. Section 2 Information Updates deals with QIR requirements and can be found by clicking here and visiting the guidance section of the ORCL website. Additionally the Registrar’s APPG guidance can be found by clicking here or visiting the specialist guidance section of the website.

If registrants have any concerns that they may have declared clients in error on any of their past returns, then please contact the Office as soon as possible.

The Registrar is very willing to engage directly with registrants who are seeking clarification on whether specific communications are registrable. Additionally the Registrar has undertaken a number of visits to registrants, presenting to staff in order to build knowledge and understanding. If this is something you believe would be helpful, please contact the Office.

Registration of charities

An organisation is not exempt from registration simply because it is a charity. Charities are only exempt from registering as long as they do not receive payment for making communications from the person upon whose behalf they are made. A communication is not made in return for payment if:

(a) a person makes the communication on behalf of persons of a particular class or description;

(b) the income of the person making the communication derives wholly or mainly from persons who are not of that class or description; and

(c) the person does not receive payment, from persons of that class or description, in return for making that communication.

All of these criteria must be in place for the exception to apply.

So, for example, a homelessness charity which receives donations from the public and communicates with ministers on behalf of homeless people would not be required to register.

A PDF copy of the quarterly newsletter can be viewed here.

Registrar presents to Compliance Officers

The Registrar presented a working session for users of the Register at a meeting facilitated by the PRCA and hosted by the Fleishman-Hillard Group on Tuesday 20 February. A copy of the slides can be found here.

Newsletter – January 2018

An apology

In the past few weeks, technical issues have been affecting the operation of the Register. A number of registrants have not been able to upload their quarterly information returns for the October-December period, or pay their annual registration fees (either the correct amount, or at all). Additionally, the search engine has not been working.

It has taken some time to track down the reasons for the problems, and resolve them.

I am assured that the technical problems have now been fixed, and the Office is working hard to get back to business as usual. However, I empathise with the frustration that you may have experienced, and you have my personal apologies for this.

The Office will be undertaking some technical diagnosis to reassure me (and you!) that these problems will not recur. In the light of the position, I feel it is only appropriate and fair, to extend the deadlines for both submission of quarterly returns (originally due 14 January) and now due at the latest please by close of play on Monday 22 January, and for payment of the £1000 annual renewal fee (originally due 19 January) and now due at the latest please by close of play on Wednesday 31 January.

Once again, my apologies.

Alison J. White

Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists

To download the start of year newsletter as a PDF file, please click here.