Paul Bristow: The real story behind the APPC-PRCA merger plan
A recent vacuum of information from the APPC has been filled with noise and untruths.
The APPC management committee proposal to merge with PRCA has aroused strong emotions from some in our industry. While I welcome a rigorous debate, I am surprised about the way that some have chosen to make their case.
I accept a lot of noise has perhaps filled a vacuum of information from the APPC. I want to put this right. The APPC are holding an event on 4th September to answer questions.* I also think it is right that I try and set the scene a little about how the APPC management committee came to the decision to recommend this merger to the wider membership.
The debate about merger between the two organisations has been ongoing for several years with both of my predecessors – Iain Anderson and Mark Glover – in favour of exploring this. The APPC and the PRCA have had a strong relationship for a number of years working together when lobbying scandals emerged involving MPs and members of the House of Lords. A debate on merger with the PRCA emerged as committee members wanted the organisation to do more than just be a self-regulatory body.
The APPC management committee officially asked the PRCA to produce a proposal for a merger on 6 November 2017, and the PRCA director general attended the committee meeting on 5 February 2018 to explain his proposal. After a lengthy and healthy debate, former chairs Michael Burrell, Mark Glover and myself were asked to meet with the PRCA to agree a revised proposal.
On the 9th April the committee met and proposed changes to the PRCA proposal and Michael Burrell, Mark Glover and I were asked to go back to discuss these with the PRCA. A vote at this meeting to progress these discussions with the PRCA was passed almost unanimously.
Following the AGM a strategy meeting was held where there was a discussion about the APPC’s future and the PRCA’s proposal. A revised proposal was considered and it was agreed that at the next committee meeting a proposal to formally put this to the membership. All the committee knew that this would be on the agenda for the meeting 16 July. On 16 July after a long and healthy debate the proposal was passed and it was agreed that there would be a members' vote. The Memorandum of Understanding that came from this can be found on the APPC’s website.
At the same time, the former vice chair of the APPC, Emily Wallace, was asked and paid to conduct a deep dive report into the views of APPC members. It was thought this could form the basis of a work programme for the merged organisation or a stand-alone APPC. Indeed, much of the debate on the 16 July was around whether recommendations from this strategy review report could be best achieved through the PRCA merger or with the APPC alone.
The points above focus on process but I hope they address a few untrue assertions that have filled the vacuum of information.
Firstly, the proposed merger is not a PRCA takeover – the APPC management committee have been involved at every stage inputting into the proposal and questioning the PRCA.
Secondly, this vote of the membership has not been railroaded through - while this may have come as a surprise to some members, it has been openly discussed by the MC for nearly 4 years and the process to take this proposal to members began in November 2017. MC members knew on 16 July that the consequences of passing the proposal would be a members' vote.
Thirdly, the APPC Strategy Review has not been ignored – the recommendations have been debated at length and it was felt they would be best achieved through a merger with the PRCA. They are on the APPC website. These recommendations do not represent an alternative vision for the APPC.
In summary, there are good arguments on either side of this debate and passion is a good thing. But what is vital is that we have a good natured debate governed by the facts. A united voice for our industry that brings more agencies into the APPC code of conduct and independent complaints process should be something we all strive for. It’s just how we get to this destination – either through joint working and merger or standing alone?
I want to remain detached from this debate – not neutral as the APPC is recommending this merger. I felt it would be best for others to take centre stage if I am to bring everyone together at the end of the process. To that end we will bring in the Electoral Reform Society to manage the ballot and I have not led the campaign for merger.
However, I will correct inaccurate information and urge colleagues to campaign appropriately. Moreover, I promise that in the coming weeks the APPC will do their best to make sure information is forthcoming starting with the meeting on 4th September.
There has always been a part of me that did not want to be last Chair of the APPC with the history of the organisation. But as we face new challenges, I am convinced that a merger with the PRCA would give the industry the united voice and resource we need to meet these. This is a big decision for our industry and I am committed to do this in the most open and transparent way.
* Paul Bristow and Francis Ingham will be taking questions and participating in a discussion about the merger on Tuesday, 4th September. The event will take place Ellwood Atfield Gallery, 34 Smith Square with PAN editor David Singleton in the chair. It is open to APPC members, PRCA members and anyone else with an interest in the proposed merger.