Former RIBA chief executive gets the nod for next lobbying tsar

Written by David Singleton on 17 September 2018 in News

Harry Rich already holds numerous non-executive roles at various bodies.

Ministers have chosen an "executive business coach" and former chief executive of the Royal Institute of British Architects to be the next registrar of consultant lobbyists.

Harry Rich has been named as the government’s preferred candidate for the post previously held by Alison White, who stepped down in the summer.

Rich trained as a solicitor and went on to become deputy chief executive of the Design Council and then chief executive of Enterprise UK. Until 2016, he was chief executive of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

He now runs a business advisory consultancy which “helps leaders to achieve more of their potential and drives the success of organisations and businesses”. On top of this, Rich is a non-executive member of the Press Recognition Panel and chair of its Audit and Risk Committee. He also holds various other non-executive roles including governor of the Glasgow School of Art.

Rich was one of 11 people to apply for the part-time post, which pays £420 per day for around 40 days a year.

The Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee has given its backing to Rich after holding a pre-appointment hearing with the former RIBA boss.

A report by the committee on the appointment states: “The hearing focussed on Mr Rich’s relevant experience, how he intends to balance his role as Registrar with his business and other commitments, and how he intends to approach the role. While the post of Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists is not a high-profile role, we nevertheless attach great importance to the appointment because of the potential controversy around lobbying. On the basis of his evidence to us, we are satisfied that Mr Rich has the personal integrity and professional experience to be appointed as the next Registrar.”

However the committee also expressed concern over how the government handled the appointment process. The report stated:  “The Committee is critical of the rushed way in which the scrutiny of Mr Rich's appointment has had to be conducted…We trust that steps will be taken to ensure such circumstances do not arise again.”

Before grilling him last week, the committee sent Rich various questions to answer. In his written replies, Rich told the MPs: “I believe that lobbying can make a useful contribution to policy-making when it is transparent and open and openness also supports good professionals… I am familiar with non-consultant lobbying and understand the relationship between lobbyists, ministers and officials. However, I have not worked with consultant lobbyists and would plan to gain a deep understanding of their work and operation in relation to the role of Registrar.”

Responding to a question about his lack of lobbying experience, Rich said: “This is obviously a challenge, because it is critical that the Registrar understands the territory in which they are operating. But it is also a necessary challenge because pre-existing experience of consultant lobbying would create irreconcilable conflicts.”

He also made it clear that he would continue his work as an executive coach and business advisor as well as non-executive roles at the PRP, Glasgow School of Art, Open College of the Arts and the Harbour Foundation. He insisted: “This will not affect my ability to carry out the role of Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists.

PRCA public affairs and lobbying group chairman Lionel Zetter welcomed the appointment and presented Rich with "a clear offer".
He said: "The public affairs industry is always willing to work collaboratively to find the most appropriate and effective solution, whether that be providing a forum to discuss changes and consultations directly with practitioners or detailed policy input from those with a long history of running and engaging with registers. 

"Let’s work together to ensure that the public affairs industry is understood in real terms, rather than through the prism of the Lobbying Act 2014. We engaged closely with Alison White every step of the way, and we look forward to continuing that work.”

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