PRCA merger plan could have been handled better, APPC chair admits

Written by Dods staff on 6 September 2018 in News

Paul Bristow was taking part in a Q&A with lobbyists at Elwood & Atfield HQ.

The chair of the APPC has said that there should have been more consultation with members on the proposed merger with the PRCA, but insisted that it still makes sense for the public affairs industry.

Paul Bristow was speaking alongside PRCA director general Francis Ingham at a sometime sparky question and answer session on the proposed merger, chaired by PAN editor David Singleton.

Asked by Singleton whether he believed that everything had been done as it should have been to pave the way for a merger, Bristow replied frankly.

 “I’ll be honest, no. I don’t think everything has been done in the way that perhaps it should. If I had my time again during this process I would have put this out to consultation as an idea to the members earlier than we did, rather than as a fait accompli," he said.

“I would probably have done something along the lines of ‘the APPC management committee think that this should go ahead’ but then had a series of consultation events with members to explain why that is the case. Instead we’ve gone straight to the vote. But we are where we are and I’m trying to put that right... by being open and honest about why the management committee made the decision it made.”

He added: “This is not a new debate but I think I would have introduced the concept to the membership earlier than we did.”

Bristow also spoke openly about how the APPC management committee gave the green light to explore a merger. There were 19 committee members with a vote on whether to proceed, but only 15 participated in the key meeting. Of the 15, there were eight in favour of exploring a merger and five opposed with two abstentions, he said.

The question and answer session attracted supporters of the merger plan, including Newington Communications chief executive Mark Glover and outspoken Whitehouse Consulting boss Chris Whitehouse. There were also a number of opponents of the plan, including Pagefield director Lucy Holbrook and FTI Consulting director Gemma Doyle.

In one of the strongest attacks on the plan, Doyle argued for a bespoke body to stand for up lobbyists and slammed the way the merger had been put on the table. The former Labour MP said: “I really do think sounds like a real mess to be honest. I congratulate Paul on admitting that some of what’s happened over the last few months has not been done in the way that it should and I really would strongly suggest then that there should be a pause. If this were a government department behaving in this way I think many of our clients would have extremely strong criticisms.”

In response, Bristow acknowledged there been “a vacuum from the APPC” when there initial merger recommendation went out. But he pointed to his recent article for PAN looking to set the record straight and insisted: “I’m determined to put that right.” 

He also stressed that talk of an APPC-PRCA merger had been going on for a number of years. “There is a part of me that never really wanted to become the last chair of the APPC. But this has been a long-term process. It has not been done in a rush without thinking of the consequences. This has been done with a very genuine, heartfelt case about what’s best for our industry now and in the future.”

In his concluding remarks, Ingham summarised the case for the merger: “I’ve been a lobbyist all my life, I believe in the power of our profession, our trade. I think this merger will mean a stronger voice. We have tried really hard to put in every mechanism and safeguard and lock to make sure that it would create an autonomous, independent and effective organisation.”

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