What do you need to know about the Lobbying (Scotland) Act?

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By Alex Bruce @alexandersbruce

What do organisations who engage with the Scottish Parliament need to do to prepare themselves for newly adopted legislation on lobbying? Orbit Communications Director Alex Bruce explains the background and main elements of this new legislation and why organisations of all types should make themselves aware of their new responsibilities under the Act.

Lobbying:

“…in a professional capacity, attempting to influence, or advising those who wish to influence, the UK Government, Parliament, the devolved legislatures or administrations, regional or local government or other public bodies on any matter within their competence.”

UK Public Affairs Council (UKPAC)

The term lobbying has taken on increasingly pejorative connotations in recent years in the wake of a series of high profile lobbying scandals involving in particular Members of the UK Parliament.

Against the backdrop of apparent growing public concern over a lack of transparency around lobbying activities, Labour MSP Neil Findlay originally lodged his own proposal for a Member’s Bill to introduce a lobbying register in 2012. However, this was superseded the following year by a Scottish Government announcement of its intention to introduce legislation of its own on lobbying. A Parliamentary inquiry and Scottish Government consultation followed this announcement, culminating in the introduction to Parliament of the Lobbying (Scotland) Bill in October 2015.

The Bill received Royal Assent on the 14th April 2016 having been passed at its final stage during March of this year.

The practical effect of this legislation is to introduce a lobbying register for any organisation engaged in what is defined as “regulated lobbying”. This definition includes any paid lobbying, whether carried out by external consultants or in-house members of staff and irrespective of whether the organisation comes from the public, private or third sectors. Included within the scope of “regulated lobbying” are face-to-face meetings with Scottish Government Ministers and MSPs concerning their Government or Parliamentary functions. This can include their role as legislators or decisions on the award of contracts, funding and so on.

It’s also important to note that the legislation extends to any representative of an organisation, irrespective of their role, and not just to those who may be specifically employed to communicate with external stakeholders.

Various forms of communication are exempted from the definition of “regulated lobbying”, including:

  • Communications to an MSP representing a constituency or region where the communicator’s business is ordinarily carried out;
  • Instances where the communication is made on behalf of an organisation with less than 10 full-time equivalent employees;
  • Communications made during a meeting of a recognised cross-party group;
  • Communications made for the purposes of journalism;
  • Communications made as part of Parliamentary proceedings (for instance, giving evidence to a committee);
  • Instances where the information request originates from an MSP or minister;
  • Communications by political parties, the judiciary and by or on behalf of her Majesty the Queen;
  • Government and Parliament communications.

Despite representations in support of their inclusion during the Bill’s passage through the Scottish Parliament, senior civil servants, government agency officials and special advisers are excluded from the scope of the legislation as are other forms of lobbying than face-to-face meetings such as telephone calls, emails, letters and video conferences.

Crucially, it is the responsibility of the organisation rather than the individual engaged in lobbying activity to enter their details onto the lobbying register. Entering and updating the register will be free of charge but failure to comply with certain aspects of the legislation will lead to criminal sanctions.

Responsibility for establishing and maintaining the new register will lie with the Clerk of the Scottish Parliament. Anyone engaged in regulated lobbying will initially be required to enter their details in the lobbying register. Those not currently engaging in regulated lobbying but who anticipate doing so in the future can enter their details voluntarily onto the register. There is also a 30 day grace period for organisations or individuals to register themselves following the first instance of regulated lobbying.

Once registered, lobbyists are expected to submit six monthly returns outlining any regulated lobbying activity undertaken and including, in each instance, the following information:

  • Who was lobbied, when and where;
  • A description of the circumstances in which the lobbying took place (a meeting, Parliamentary reception or other event…);
  • Who undertook the lobbying;
  • Whether this was undertaken on the registrant’s own behalf or on behalf of someone else and, if so, who;
  • The purpose of the lobbying.

Failure to register or to submit returns when required to do so or the submission of false or inaccurate information are defined as criminal offences under the Act, punishable by a fine of up to £1,000.

The legislation also establishes a complaints process with investigation and reporting responsibilities being conferred to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland. It also requires the Scottish Parliament to publish a Code of Conduct for persons lobbying Members of the Scottish Parliament. This is to cover all types of communication to an MSP and not just those defined as “regulated lobbying”.

Having summarised the legislation as clearly and concisely as I can, what does it all practically mean for your organisation?

First, it is important to acknowledge that, throughout the detailed discussions leading up to the adoption of this legislation, the value and importance of lobbying as a legitimate part of the democratic process were consistently emphasised. The intention of the new Act is certainly not to discourage lobbying of the Scottish Parliament but rather to make the process more open and transparent.

Following the elections in May, if your organisation is already in the habit of meeting MSPs face-to-face with a view to influencing policy or simply raising awareness of issues pertaining to your organisation, you will be required in most circumstances to submit your details to the new lobbying register. In future, any such meetings will need to be recorded and submitted as part of your organisation’s six-monthly return to the Clerk of the Scottish Parliament. If you are in any doubt, it is always going to be safer to register your organisation, even if this means that your six-monthly returns will be completely empty. Once published, organisations should also take the time to familiarise themselves with the Scottish Parliament’s new Code of Conduct for lobbyists.

No doubt there will be ongoing arguments about the precise scope of the legislation and how workable or effective it will be in practice. But in so far as it encourages organisations to think more carefully about how they engage with politicians and to operate in as open and transparent a way as possible, it has to be viewed as a positive step.

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Focus on Education at the heart of Nicola Sturgeon Cabinet reshuffle

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Alex Orr @alex_m_orr

Nicola Sturgeon has put a clear focus on education and young people in her Cabinet reshuffle.

Deputy First Minister and trusted ally, John Swinney, replaces Angela Constance as Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills. The latter becomes Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities, which will also include responsibility for welfare reform.

Seen as a safe and highly competent pair of hands Mr Swinney, Finance Secretary for nine years, will spearhead the key Scottish Government objective of closing the educational attainment gap, at the heart of the SNP’s ambitions for the next Parliamentary term and on which Ms Sturgeon has staked her personal reputation.

Mr Swinney will also have responsibility for public sector reform across the government as well as the “named person” legislation.

Two long-standing ministers – Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead and Social Justice Minister Alex Neil – announced ahead of the reshuffle that they were stepping down from the cabinet.

This gave some latitude to the newly sworn in First Minister to appoint former Transport Minister, Derek MacKay, into the role of Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution, a Chancellor of the Exchequer style role given the new tax powers coming to the Scottish Parliament. Previously this role was held by John Swinney, but his portfolio has been split in two, with Mr MacKay taking finance and Keith Brown as Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work.

Fergus Ewing, the former Energy Minister and supporter of fracking, is given the role of Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity and Paul Wheelhouse takes over his former role, becoming Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy.

A new post of Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform has been formed and will be filled by Roseanna Cunningham MSP, while Shona Robison remains at Health, Michael Matheson at Justice and Fiona Hyslop at Culture and External affairs.

Humza Yousaf, the previous Europe Minister, has been given Mr MacKay’s former role as Minister for Transport and the Islands and a new post of mental health minister has been created, to be held by Maureen Watt. Alasdair Allan will take over from Mr Yousaf as Minister for International Development and Europe.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, becomes Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, reporting to Mr Swinney.

There is also a role for newly elected MSP, Jeane Freeman, a former special adviser to Jack McConnell, as Minister for Social Security, while Kevin Stewart takes over as Minister for Local Government and Housing.

New Cabinet with portfolio responsibilities

First Minister: Nicola Sturgeon MSP

Head of the Scottish Government: responsible for development, implementation and presentation of Government policy, constitutional affairs, and for promoting and representing Scotland.

Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills: John Swinney MSP

Government Strategy, Delivery and outcomes across portfolios, Resilience, School standards, Educational attainment and closing the attainment gap, National Improvement Framework, Quality and improvement, Teaching profession, School infrastructure and staffing, Qualifications, Behaviour, Measures to combat bullying, The Gaelic and Scots languages, Modern languages, Historical Abuse Inquiry, Named person, Cross Government co-ordination of Public Service Reform, Childcare implementation, Early years, Child protection, Social services workforce, Adoption and Fostering, Children’s rights, Looked after children, Children’s hearings, Protection of vulnerable groups, Children’s services, Widening Access, Higher education and universities, Further education and colleges, Student funding, Science and STEM, Youth work, Skills Development Scotland, Implementation of Wood recommendations.

Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution: Derek Mackay MSP

Scottish Budget, Fiscal policy, Taxation, Budgetary monitoring and reporting, Scottish Public Finances and their sustainability, Public sector pay and pensions, Scottish Futures Trust, Efficient government, Public Bodies Policy, National Performance Framework, Registers of Scotland, Government procurement, Digital Public Services, Constitution.

Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport: Shona Robison MSP

NHS, Elective centres, Health care and social integration, Carers, Adult care and support, Implementing 2020 Vision and National Clinical Strategy, Patient services, NHS staff and pay, Problem alcohol use and recovery, Healthy working lives, National service planning, NHS performance, Acute services, Sporting events and legacy, Patient safety, Quality strategy, Public health, Health protection, Sport and physical activity, Primary care, Mental health, Allied healthcare services, Dentistry, Sexual health, medical records, Health improvement, Drugs policy, Child and maternal health.

Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform: Roseanna Cunningham MSP

Climate Change, Flood prevention, water quality, Land reform, Physical and marine environment, Sustainable development, Biodiversity, Natural heritage, Environmental protection, Environmental and climate justice, National parks, Scottish Water.

Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs: Fiona Hyslop MSP

Culture and the arts, Broadcasting, Architecture, Built heritage, National identity, Cross government co-ordination on bringing major events to Scotland, National records, Fair trade, Tourism, International development, Cross-government co-ordination on European Union and international relations, Scottish diaspora.

Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities: Angela Constance MSP

Welfare policy, Community empowerment, Devolution to Communities and Reform of Local Government, Equalities, Religious and faith organisations, Protection and development of Social and Human Rights, Third sector and social economy, Democratic renewal, Local government, Housing, Homelessness, Community planning, Planning, Business improvement districts, Town centres, Building standards, Social security, Implementation of new powers, Measures against poverty, Disabilities, Older people.

Cabinet Secretary for Justice: Michael Matheson MSP

The Justice system, Criminal Law procedure, Civil law, Police, Fire and Rescue services, Legal profession, Violence reduction, Anti-sectarianism, Courts, Sentencing, Security, Human rights, Access to justice, Community safety, Anti-social behaviour, Prisons and prisoners, Female offenders, Criminal justice social work, Victims and witnesses, Reducing reoffending, Youth justice, Liquor licensing.

Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work: Keith Brown MSP

The Scottish Economy, Infrastructure Investment Policy, Scottish Enterprise, Trade & Inward Investment, Innovation, internationalisation, increasing productivity, Fair work and inclusive growth, Labour market strategy, Living wage, European Structural funds, Infrastructure Investment Policy, Consumer advocacy and advice, Employment policy, Trades Unions, Bankruptcy policy and Accountant in Bankruptcy (AIB), Business, Industry and Manufacturing, Cities, Energy and energy consent, Regional Economic Forums, Life sciences, Financial services, Low carbon economy, Renewable energy industries,Youth and Women’s Employment, Employability programmes

Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity: Fergus Ewing MSP

Rural Scotland, Highlands Islands Enterprise, Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Aquaculture, Food and drink, Crofting, Transport, Connectivity including 100 per cent broadband.

The full Scottish ministerial team is completed by the appointment of the following ministers:

Minister for Childcare and Early Years

Mark McDonald

Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science

Shirley-Anne Somerville

Minister for Parliamentary Business

Joe FitzPatrick

Minister for Transport and the Islands

Humza Yousaf

Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy

Paul Wheelhouse

Minister for Employability and Training

Jamie Hepburn (Reporting to cabinet secretaries for economy and education)

Minister for Public Health and Sport

Aileen Campbell

Minister for Mental Health

Maureen Watt

Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs

Annabelle Ewing

Minister for Local Government & Housing

Kevin Stewart

Minister for Social Security

Jeane Freeman

Minister for International Development and Europe

Alasdair Allan

 

Who’s potentially In and out in Nicola Sturgeon’s new team

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Alex Orr alex_m_orr

Tomorrow Nicola Sturgeon will be re-elected as First Minister tomorrow by the Scottish Parliament, after which she is expected to announce her new Government team of Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers.

So far she has already announced plans for a new cabinet post of Economy Secretary, splitting the responsibilities of the current Finance and Economic Growth brief held by John Swinney.  Ms Sturgeon said the new powers over tax and welfare and the current economic challenges posed by unemployment figures and other difficulties facing businesses, including in the North Sea and Clyde shipyards, means a new cabinet secretary for economic growth is necessary.

Ms Sturgeon said the post holder’s responsibility would be to “stimulate growth, boost productivity and create jobs”, allowing the Finance Secretary to focus on the new tax and welfare powers that Holyrood will have for the first time.

If Mr Swinney remains in one of the two finance and economy posts it could mean promotion for another who has performed well and, given Ms. Sturgeon’s commitment to a gender balanced cabinet it is possible the roles, which would be considered the most senior positions after the First Minister could be split between a man and a woman, likely meaning a major reshuffle is on the cards around the Cabinet table.

Possible contenders include Infrastructure Secretary, Keith Brown, seen as a safe and competent Cabinet Secretary since his promotion from transport when he steadied the ship after Stewart Stevenson was forced to resign. Transport Minister, Derek Mackay, is another who could be promoted to a cabinet secretary role.

Angela Constance is expected to be moved from the education brief and the post will be one of the most important in Ms Sturgeon’s new government following her commitment to tackle the attainment gap between the most and least affluent pupils.

Pollok MSP, Humza Yousaf, is developing a growing reputation within the party and is close to Ms Sturgeon. After spending most of his first term as external affairs minister he could be in line for promotion.

New MSP, Jeane Freeman, could be catapulted straight into government with her experience already as a government adviser and enhanced reputation during the referendum campaign whilst former MSP, Shirley-Anne Somerville, destined for government before she lost her seat in 2011, could be in line for another job on her return.

With some junior ministers not returning to Parliament there are some posts to be filled and opportunities for long-standing MSPs and new faces to make their mark lower down the ministerial ladder.  Housing Minister, Margaret Burgess MSP, did not seek re-election, like fellow Local Government Minister Marco Biagi and environment minister, Aileen McLeod lost her seat, leaving three junior posts to be filled.

Having secured her personal mandate, where previously she had inherited the post from Alex Salmond, along with his team, the new First Minister will now feel fully free to shape the new administration as she sees fit.

 

The EU, an opportunity to celebrate it and all it has achieved

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Alex Orr Alex_M_Orr

On Europe Day (9th May), Alex Orr, Managing Director of Orbit Communications gives his personal view on the era of peace and stability the European Union (EU) has delivered.

Today events take place across Scotland and the rest of the European Union (EU) to mark Europe Day, an annual celebration of peace and unity across the continent.

Thousands of people will take part in visits, debates, concerts and other events to mark the day and raise awareness of the EU. Europe Day is especially relevant this year, given the impending referendum in the UK on EU membership in just over six weeks’ time on 23rd June.

The day is also known as Schuman Day, commemorating the historical declaration 66 years ago on 9th May, 1950 by the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, which marked the first move towards the creation of the European Union. Europe had just come out of the Second World War, a conflict that had nearly destroyed the continent and split it between two spheres of influence.

In a desire not to repeat such destruction there was a great deal of momentum towards European co-operation, which would make war between Europe’s nations unthinkable. Wartime British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, standing next to Robert Schuman, had called for Franco-German reconciliation in a united Europe in a speech in July 1946.

Schuman’s vision was to create a European institution that would pool and manage coal and steel production. Through the Schuman Declaration the French foreign minister proposed the creation of a supranational European institution. This led firstly to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) the following year. It was also the forerunner of several other European Communities and also what is now the EU.

The ECSC was founded on the principle that tying former arch-enemies economically together – originally through the weapons of war of coal and steel – would assist in ending the horrors of such conflicts and deliver much-needed reconciliation. And it has proven to be highly successful in transforming a previously warring continent, acting as the foundation of peace after centuries of bloodshed.

The delivery of peace, stability and prosperity are just some of the reasons why we should vote to remain in the EU in the June referendum, to see the bigger picture of the benefits that our membership brings.

Since the Schuman Declaration nations in Europe have forged closer links and come together to reach common solutions to common problems, keeping the peace and enhancing our collective security.

For those who are fighting for the values of freedom and democracy across the world the EU has been an inspiration, and for those member states formerly under the jackboot of dictatorship and Communism membership of the EU acted as a beacon of hope.

As we look towards the referendum, in a matter of weeks, it does no harm in being reminded what we have enjoyed, the precious gift of more than 60 years of peace, stability and prosperity in a previously war ravaged continent. This, all for the equivalent of a contribution to the EU of 26p a day from each and every one of us.

The EU is not perfect, far from it, but to leave would be to row against the tide of history and Europe Day gives us a chance to celebrate the EU and its many achievements.

SNP fall short, a good night for the Tories and Labour struggle – the outcome of the 2016 election  

 

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Alex Orr @Alex_m_Orr

The SNP has won an historic third term in the Scottish Parliamentary election, but has fallen two seats short of winning an overall majority, meaning that it will have to do deals with opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament.

However, the real story of the night was the meteoric rise in Tory fortunes, pushing Kezia Dugdale’s Labour Party, whose vote collapsed, into third place.

The Conservatives secured 31 seats, more than double those it previously held (15), with leader Ruth Davidson winning the constituency of Edinburgh Central (formerly SNP) and Jackson Carlaw winning the formerly Labour seat of Eastwood.

The Conservatives took two of the three seats covering Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders. Finlay Carson held Galloway and West Dumfries, while Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire was held by John Lamont.

The Tories also won Aberdeenshire West from the SNP after a major swing in the vote. Alexander Burnett was elected after the party’s share surged 17% to leave Dennis Robertson in second place.

It was a night of woe for the Labour Party, with its number of seats collapsing from 37 to 24 (a drop of 13).

There were however some rare successes for Labour, with Daniel Johnson winning the seat of Edinburgh Southern; Iain Gray holding onto his seat in East Lothian and Jackie Baillie narrowly holding the seat of Dumbarton.

The results will however leave Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader who had hoped her call for a new 50p income tax rate would boost the party’s popularity, facing calls to consider her future.

With six seats (an increase from two) the Scottish Greens pushed the Lib Dems into fifth place, who despite some notable exceptions in North East Fife and Edinburgh Western, held the same number of seats as in 2011 (five).

The legacy of the independence referendum is still alive and well in Scotland and voting allegiances should be seen through the prism of that vote, split between Unionist and Nationalist.

It has been estimated that c. 90% of those who voted Yes to independence backed the SNP, and for those opposing it the clear and coherent Conservative message of no second referendum, delivered by a charismatic leader in the shape of Ruth Davidson, was highly successful. She was also seen by the electorate as a more credible alternative to Kezia Dugdale in holding the SNP to account.

This strategy, galvanizing the Unionist vote, saw the Conservative share of the vote increase by over 8% in constituency seats and 10% in regional seats. It therefore proved highly successful in seats which had previously voted No in the independence referendum. Hence its achievement in winning seats in the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway and in Aberdeenshire.

In North East Fife and Edinburgh West strong local campaigns by the Liberal Democrats helped to unseat SNP incumbents, as well as Unionist voters galvanized in seeing that party as the best means to overturn the SNP.

Scotland is indeed a divided nation, not between right and left, but between those supporting independence and those backing the Union. It was something the Conservatives strongly exploited and it has proven highly successful.

With an SNP Government in power facing a Conservative opposition, the next five years will prove highly interesting.

 

Supporting responsible private landlords can help MSPs solve housing crisis

John - Headshot - October 2015
John Blackwood Chief Executive, Scottish Association of Landlords

During the campaign, all parties rightly put solving Scotland’s housing crisis at the top of their agenda.  Whilst the length of this Parliamentary term provides an opportunity to achieve this, it is essential is that all of our weapons are brought to bear, including recognising the role that private landlords can play. 

SAL represents the growing number of landlords with a small portfolio who are, in essence, small businesses.  They operate on very small margins whilst trying to deliver high-quality rented homes to those who want them.  All of them support local supply chains by hiring builders, electricians, plumbers or the other trades required to maintain and improve their properties.

They are also willing and able to increase housing supply, whilst being socially responsible.  To mobilise this group, the government only needs to make very small policy moves to signal to landlords that they have their support.

For example, private landlords already work to bring derelict housing back in to use and provide it at low-rent levels to reduce pressure on social housing.  If this investment could be encouraged across the country, thousands of homes could be brought back in to use where they are needed, guaranteeing the landlord an income and giving the council access to high-quality accommodation.

MSPs could also help the overwhelming number of responsible private landlords in Scotland by reviewing the regulation of the sector.  Landlords are in favour of proportionate regulation, particularly in areas such as electrical safety or energy efficiency which also protect their property, provided it is enforced.  Currently, landlords who comply with regulations can find themselves undercut by rogue players who almost never face any penalties.  Were the government to work with us to implement effective regulations, they could improve housing conditions and raise the standards for all private rented accommodation.

Mutually beneficial investment and effective regulation are just two of the ways I hope the new Parliament will seek to engage with landlords over the next five years.  Our message to MSPs is simple.  Landlords want to help solve the housing crisis, work with us and we can have a responsible, sector which can help solve Scotland’s housing crisis.