PRCA unveils code of conduct with 'proper' definition of public affairs
Paul Bristow and Francis Ingham have both been working on the new code.
The PRCA has published the new Public Affairs Code, making a point of insisting that it is almost exactly the same as the APPC code of conduct that it replaces.
The code - which contains a pithy 61 word definition of public affairs - was unveiled this week by the PRCA Public Affairs Board following an industry-wide consultation. It comes into effect on 28 February, when the new Public Affairs Register next opens for updated transparency and disclosure returns.
The new code has been published four months after after the controversial APPC-PRCA merger was backed by 57% of voting member organisations. In the run-up to the vote, the respected lobbyist and former APPC chair Michael Burrell had expressed concern about plans for a new code of conduct saying that those backing a merger had left “plenty of wriggle room” for it not to be too close to the APPC code. But a PRCA spokesman said this week: “It is near-identical to the PRCA public affairs and lobbying code of conduct and the APPC code of conduct, which was used as the basis of the new code."
In a statement, PRCA public affairs board chair Paul Bristow talked up the new code and the definition of public affairs it contains. He said: “We were absolutely clear when the Public Affairs Board launched: the priority for the executive committee was to develop a new Public Affairs Code, not in isolation, but in open consultation with our members. Over the next month, we will be engaging in outreach and producing guidance, but this has to be framed by the fact that the codes were so incredibly similar. What it did give us an opportunity to do, however, was codify the commitments we made ahead of APPC-PRCA merger, and ensure that a proper, meaningful definition of public affairs was included in the Public Affairs Code.”
Bristow's reference to a "proper" definition of public affairs appears to be a swipe at the unusual definition of lobbying that found its way into in the 2014 Lobbying Act. The Act has been widely mocked for only seeing lobbying as a direct approach to a minister or a permanent secretary.
On the definition of public affairs, the code makes clear that it is not only about direct influencing. It is also about advising others on influencing. The code states: “'Public affairs' means activities which are carried out in the course of a business for the purpose of (a) influencing government, (b) or advising others how to influence government. Activities are to be taken as having the purpose specified if a reasonable person would assume, having regard to all the circumstances, that the activities were intended to have the effect described." There is also a link to a longer version of the definition.
The new code is yet to meet any opposition from those who campaigned against the PRCA-APPC merger last year, but PAN understands that there could yet be moves against it. In particular, former APPC chair Robbie MacDuff is said to be planning to start campaigning for a statutory code of conduct, to replace the PRCA’s code.