“Find out if your local councillor is being wined and dined”

Of course, the complication we have in East Devon is that several of our district councillors are, or have been, in the “hospitality trade” as Owl has pointed out in the past:


“The timeless practice of “gastronomic pimping”, as Nye Bevan put it, is a tool long used by commercial lobbyists to curry favour. These “meetings” are deliberately social occasions designed to create bonds, establish shared values and ultimately influence council decisions.

Robert Davis, the most wined and dined politician in Britain while he was chairman of Westminster council’s planning committee, was entertained 150 times by property industry figures in three years. But hospitality is not the only tool in the property lobbyist’s box. One of the surest ways to access and influence the officials you seek to influence is to employ people who know local government inside out. Councillors up and down the country are employed in the property lobbying business. They are elected to represent the public interest and at the same time employed by developers seeking to influence the public sphere.

Full list of Westminster councillor Robert Davis’s 514 freebies
Take one of the scores of firms in this business, which claims to have “won successful planning consents for over 20 years”. It employs numerous local councillors, including one who sits on a council planning committee, as well as prospective and former councillors, plus a former council leader. These people not only understand how decisions are made, but in many cases are the decision-makers themselves. This is valuable for any developer needing council backing.

Besides trying to ensure that elected officials are onside with their clients’ development plans, these planning lobbyists also deal with any resistance from local communities. Developers have a statutory duty on large projects to consult with communities. Consultation, however, in the hands of lobbyists, is a tool that serves to draw out community opposition and provide it with a managed channel through which to voice concerns, but with no hope of tangibly changing the outcome. As the ex-Tesco lobbyist Bernard Hughes explained: “Businesses have to be able to predict risk and gain intelligence on potential problems. The army used to call it reconnaissance; we call it consultation.”

What do developers want from their relationships? It may be straightforward planning permission; or relief from paying a tax used to fund local amenities; or an agreement with the council on the amount of affordable homes the developer has, or doesn’t have, to provide. All of which can be, and is, negotiated by the councils upon which such lavish hospitality is poured.

That the “local lobbying” industry has got away with such practices for so long is no surprise. It lacks the one thing necessary to drive them out – scrutiny. As Davis says in his defence, all his meetings with developers “were all properly declared and open to anyone to examine”. But people need to have a proper look at what is happening in their council. Take a look at the registers of interests to see if any of your councillors double up as lobbyists. Get hold of the registers of hospitality and see if they are taking from the developers they should be overseeing. Use freedom of information law to dig deeper into who is meeting whom, and what they are seeking to do, and then hand the information to your local paper.

Until a light is shone on these relationships they will continue to flourish, and we will continue to get developments that serve no one but the investors and developers.”

• Tamasin Cave is co-author of A Quiet Word and a campaigner with Spinwatch


2 thoughts on ““Find out if your local councillor is being wined and dined”

  1. I am a bit confused here. I have reviewed local councillors Registers of Interest before, and even had to chase both District and Parish/Town councils to chase their councillors to provide one.

    As far as I can recall, these are updated less frequently than “once in a blue moon” and include property ownership and membership of clubs and associations but not hospitality.

    So how are we supposed to scrutinise hospitality given to councillors when they don’t have to declare it and don;t have to declare it within a reasonable period (of say 2 weeks)?


  2. So for example, the Register of Interests for EDDC Leader Paul Alexander Diviani can be found at http://eastdevon.gov.uk/media/1171696/roi-paul-diviani.pdf

    It has boxes to declare employment, sponsorship, business interests, contracts for services with the council, property owned in the council area or leased from the council, membership of 3rd party bodies. There is a box for hospitality – but this is limited to declaring hospitality worth more than £25 “received by virtue of your office” (which is what EDDC’s Code of Conduct requires).

    So if you are invited to a formal dinner specifically as Leader of the Council, then you have to declare it, but if a developer invites you to have dinner with them as an individual then you don’t need to declare it.

    So Paul Diviani’s most recent declaration made only a month ago states formally that he has never (in all his years as a councillor) ever had any hospitality “received by virtue of his office”. This beggars belief – he has been a councillor for decades, and leaving aside the formal dinners that he must have attended by virtue of being Leader, is it genuinely believable that he has NEVER received hospitality of any sort from a developer or business?

    So it seems to me that the Council’s “Code of Conduct” for members ( http://eastdevon.gov.uk/media/2128472/constitution-2017-part-51.pdf ) needs to be toughened up substantially to provide better transparency.

    For comparison, Westminster City Council’s equivalent code of conduct ( http://westminster.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s23830/MembersCodeofConductdoc.pdf ) says:

    “5.1 Members must, within 28 days of receipt, notify or arrange for the Monitoring Officer to be notified in writing of any gift, benefit or hospitality with a value in excess of £25 which they have accepted as a Member from any person or body other than the City Council.”

    So, in Westminster it doesn’t matter whether the gift or hospitality is “received by virtue of your office” – you have to declare it. But in East Devon, so long as you can justifiably claim that it was a gift or hospitality made to you as an individual rather than as e.g. Leader of the Council, then you don’t need to declare it.

    Clearly the mistake made by Robert Davis, Deputy Leader of Westminster City Council, was to be a member of a council that required him to declare all gifts and hospitality received rather than a member of a council that requires declarations to be made only those received in his official capacity. Or perhaps his mistake was not to have had the Code of Conduct changed so that the declaration is only required if it was “received by virtue of his office”. If he had been Deputy Leader of EDDC instead, we would never have known about the £12k-£100k worth of gifts and hospitality he received. Paul Diviani has made no such mistake.


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