A Holyrood lobbying firm that gave £12,000 to the Conservatives for breakfast and dinner events is directed by a former local chair of the party, The Ferret can reveal.
Electoral Commission records show that Glasgow-based Invicta Public Affairs gave the “sponsorship” donation to the Tories in 2018, which the lobbying firm said covered business events at a party conference.
Cummings was until recently the named chair of the local Tory party in East Dunbartonshire. But its website listed a different chairman after The Ferret approached the Scottish Tories. Cummings also lobbied the formerly East Dunbartonshire-based MSP, Maurice Golden.
Transparency group Unlock Democracy argued Invicta was facilitating a “lobbying merry go round” which “isn’t the healthiest for our democracy.”
The SNP condemned “jobs for the boys” between Tory politicians and lobbying firms, and demanded that Tory MSPs lobbied by Invicta publish any meeting notes.
Labour believed Invicta’s Tory donation helped the firm secure meetings for its clients and called for “a root and branch review” of company access to lawmakers.
Cummings argued Invicta had always supported the lobbying register and code of practice. His firm had always acted transparently and never employed a sitting politician.
Stephen Kerr and Invicta lobbying
Holyrood’s lobbying register shows that Invicta lobbied politicians on 95 occasions since March 2018, when the register was established, and 1 November 2021. The majority of meetings, 45, involved SNP MSPs.
Of the 28 times Tory MSPs were lobbied, Cummings was present on 20 occasions, including two where he lobbied his former employee, Kerr, who was elected as an MSP in May.
Kerr was lobbied by Cummings on behalf of the Wood Panel Industries Federation (WPIF) and the UK Marine Energy Council. According to his register of interests, Kerr earned £35-£40,000 a year “for occasional work” advising Invicta on “the marine energy sector and the wood panel industries” until 31 March.
Kerr was the MP for Stirling from 2017-2019. During this time he chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Wood Panel Industry, sitting alongside the WPIF director general.
Both the wood panel group and the Marine Energy Council, along with similar organisations, have been listed as Invicta clients at Westminster since 2015. These organisations feature alongside Lidl, Miller Homes and Optometry Scotland in Invicta’s Holyrood lobbying client list.
As an MP, Kerr was central to an Invicta-sponsored event held at a Tory party conference where he interviewed then-environment minister, Michael Gove.
Invicta also sponsored an invitation only “business day lunch” with then-energy minister, Claire Perry.
Kerr lost his Westminster seat in 2019. He then became a paid consultant for several organisations, earning between £66-£92,000 a year, but quit all these roles by 31 March.
Tom Brake, director of Unlock Democracy, said: “This lobbying merry go round leaves me dizzy: A Westminster MP who heads up an All Party Parliamentary Group focused on the wood panel industry, who after losing his seat becomes a consultant for a public affairs company representing the wood panel industry.
“Then gets elected to the Scottish Parliament and ends up being lobbied by the public affairs company he used to work for, about… the wood panel industry.
“Whilst no rules have been broken, a revolving door that transforms a legislator to a lobbyist and back again isn’t the healthiest for our democracy.”
SNP MP Alison Thewliss said: “The continued rise of jobs for the boys between failed and current Tory elected members and private lobbying firms like Invicta Public Affairs is extremely concerning.
“There is already a gulf between the Tory party and voters across Scotland, and this type of behaviour shows elected members are more comfortable dealing with their wealthy and connected friends over normal families and voters.
“In the interest of fairness and transparency, Stephen Kerr and the other Tory MSPs Invicta has lobbied since March 2018 should publish the notes on these meetings immediately.”
Kerr did not respond to our request to comment. But Cummings claimed Kerr’s declaration of work for Invicta while not elected was “in terms of transparency, beyond anything required by the regulations and indicative of his personal integrity.”
He said: “As early and consistent supporters of a lobbying register and code of practice, Invicta are proud to support vital sectors of the UK economy in making their case to the government and opposition parties in an open and transparent way.”
Cummings added: “All such contacts are recorded and declared. No sitting MP or MSP has at any point worked for Invicta.
“It is ironic for a company which has been at the forefront of support for transparency to be the subject of such a story, on the basis of information which is in the public domain and available to reporters precisely because of the rules that we lobbied for.”
Invicta declined to confirm for what period Cummings had been a Tory party member or chaired the East Dunbartonshire Conservatives, or whether he held any other elected positions in the party. But a spokeswoman said Cummings was not currently a member of any political party.
Invicta’s sponsorship donation covered the cost of an “economy breakfast” and “official business dinner” at the October 2017 Conservative Party Conference, the spokeswoman said.
The lobbying firm also sponsors events at SNP, Labour and Lib Dem conferences, she added. However, no other Invicta donations of any kind to other parties appear on Electoral Commission records.
A Scottish Conservative spokesman said: “All donations to the party are declared properly.”
Holyrood lobbying ‘in the shadows’ without reform
Labour MSP Paul Sweeney said: “There really is a revolving door between the world of politics and lobbying, and someone needs to put a stop to it.”
Invicta’s donation to the Tories was used “to get a foot in the door and secure meetings on behalf of their clients. It’s the exact kind of activity that the Lobbying Act sought to prevent but has been unable to get to grips with,” he argued.
“Are we really supposed to just sit back and say that this is all fine and how a functioning democracy should work? Once again we see a situation where those with the deepest pockets get the most access to people in positions of power.”
Sweeney added: “We need a root and branch review of the access these companies have to policy makers, because the current system simply entrenches inequality further.”
Transparency International UK said that “while Parliament can benefit from the experience of MSPs’ prior employment, this transition from private to public role is not without its risks.”
“When parliamentarians are lobbied by their former colleagues, it is easy for the line between their personal and professional relationships to become blurred,” said Rose Whiffen, research officer.
“In order to safeguard trust in our democracy, our representatives must scrupulously avoid the perception or the reality that they are serving private interests rather than the public good.”
Holyrood’s lobbying register only requires MSPs to record face to face meetings and gives just “a snapshot of what’s really going on,” she argued. “Without much needed reform, a lot of what happens in Holyrood will remain in the shadows.”
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