Could Politicians be soon making dirty phone calls?
Today’s reports that Britain’s top 50 companies are to be granted unprecedented access to government ministers to spark life into the economy is concerning.
The initiative, ostensibly designed to boost economic growth, will make six ministers from three departments key points of contact for a select group of UK exporters and inward investors. The idea is to allow chief executives from Britain’s top companies easy access to ministers to discuss policy concerns.
On the surface this might seem like a good thing. It suggests a cutting away of red tape.
Singapore is quoted as a great example to how things can work in this way – they do it there and look at their economy. Those who question whether this closeness between ministers and business are dismissed as ‘paranoid’.
What these supporters of the scheme fail to acknowledge, however, are some serious conflict of interest issues.
Eyeing up the future
Ministers are often ambitious people, with an eye as much on their financial future as their political present.
Dispatches’ expose Politicians for Hire in 2010 showed this artfully. How can we, as taxpayers, be reassured that private conversations between profit-hungry businessmen and politicians ever-wary of their next step are always in the public interest?
A revolving door clearly exists between politics and business. After all, former Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt landed a lucrative job with Boots, while David Blunkett, the former secretary of state for work and pensions, went on to work for A4e, a leading employment and training firm that bids for multi-million pound contracts in the UK from Blunkett’s former department.
Will making the relationship between businesses and politicians benefit us or them?
Another issue is that this proposed role could inhibit ministers to deal with rival businesses fairly.
Hotline to controversy
We have already heard much about the closesness of the Murdoch empire to the Conservatives. Had News Corporation been granted a hotline to Jeremy Hunt would the proposed BSkyB takeover bid have happened before the phone hacking scandal properly broke?
There is also the issue of fairness. This scheme will favour large brands and big business. What voice will small companies have?
Underlying this is the problem of transparency. Will transcripts of phone calls be made available? Will we, the public, be able to learn what might be said in these conversations – the deals struck, the promises made?
After all the Freedom of Information Act has a commercial confidentiality ‘get-out-clause’ .
This scheme seems worryingly murky and cosy. The Bureau has already revealed that Tory party funding from the City doubled under David Cameron.
Making the links between the moneyed men of business and politicians both closer and at the same time less transparent smells decidedly rotten.