They don’t like transparency, do they! – Owl
- Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick failed to disclose a meeting with members of the housing industry.
- The meeting was set up by The Enterprise Forum, a Conservative lobbying forum.
- Government rules say ministers’ meetings with external organisations must be disclosed.
Henry Dyer news.yahoo.com
Boris Johnson’s housing secretary failed to disclose a meeting with representatives of the housing industry set up by a top Conservative lobbying forum, Insider can reveal.
Official transparency records published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government contain no detail of such meeting attended by Robert Jenrick, the department’s top minister.
But social media posts by The Enterprise Forum, the lobbying group that set up and attended the meeting, and other attendees show that Jenrick spoke with representatives of the housing industry on March 23 via video call.
Jenrick gave a speech on “the government’s priorities on planning, local infrastructure and housing” before taking questions from attendees.
One attendee said Jenrick set “a new record for how many questions a speaker got through during this roundtable session.” Another attendee said how Jenrick “agreed to engage with our industry” on a matter they had raised in the Q&A.
The Ministerial Code is clear that “Departments will publish quarterly, details of Ministers’ external meetings.”
There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by The Enterprise Forum or any other attendees.
Members of the Enterprise Forum can pay more than £2,500 per year for access to meetings set up by the group.
The government say the failure to declare the meeting was an “administrative error.”
A government spokesperson told Insider: “The Secretary of State met with The Enterprise Forum on 23rd March 2021, where he delivered a speech on the Government’s future plans on planning, local infrastructure and housing.
“The transparency return was not declared at the time due to an administrative error by the department, however we are currently working on rectifying this issue and the meeting will be reflected in due course.”
In November 2019, Jenrick had also failed to declare a meeting with a housing-scheme developer, Richard Desmond, who lobbied Jenrick over dinner to fast-track his scheme’s application to save him £50 million.
Other so-called administrative errors by the Department of Health and Social Care saw 27 meetings by a health minister go undeclared for more than a year, Byline Times reported in June.
‘The rules on lobbying are seriously broken’
Susan Hawley, executive director at Spotlight on Corruption, told Insider that there needed to be powers to sanction departments for failing to disclose lobbying meetings.
“There is increasing consensus that the rules on lobbying are seriously broken, and that this is exacerbated by departments abjectly failing to disclose accurate and timely information about who is lobbying who and about what. This is seriously undermining trust and confidence in politicians,” she said.
“Serious consideration needs to be given to an independent regulator to oversee lobbying, with power to impose sanctions on departments for failing to disclose information properly. It should not be left to investigative journalists to ferret out this information, as valuable as that is.”
Rose Whiffen, research officer at Transparency International UK, told Insider that compliance with transparency rules can be “patchy.”
“It is commonplace for government to discuss policy ideas with outside interests, but there should always be full transparency over who gets access to – and potential influence over – decision makers. Ministers are supposed to declare any discussion concerning official business, but compliance can be patchy,” she said.
“There needs to be a comprehensive and consistent approach to transparency declarations across government. The body responsible for ensuring these rules are followed, the Independent Advisor on Ministerial Interests, should be given the power and resources to proactively investigate any failure to comply.”