Analysis: Unhealthy friendships with Department of Health

As part of the Bureau’s ongoing research into political lobbying we have been looking at the links between key government officials and the private sector.

Our latest analysis follows a recent damning report on the Department of Health’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, which introduced a voluntary code aimed at encouraging fast food firms, supermarkets and drinks manufacturers to cut back on salt, fat and trans fats, all of which are associated with many public health problems such as obesity.

The report, by the Commons health select committee, criticised the Deal as being potentially too lenient towards the food industry by allowing a voluntary agreement rather than using legislation.

Going soft on big food companies
With this concern in mind, the Bureau looked at the links between Bill Morgan –  the Department of Health’s top special adviser on policy development – and his previous employers.

Mr Morgan came to Lansley’s office in July 2010 having been director for the health arm of Mandate Communications, a public relations company which has since merged with MHP communications.

MHP’s clients include Coca Cola, Kraft Foods and Tesco Stores. All three companies have signed up to the Public Health Responsibility Deal.

An MHP spokesperson said: ‘MHP openly declares all our clients and employees, in line with the voluntary code and as part of our own commitment to  transparency.  However, we can also confirm that, at no time, did Bill Morgan either directly or indirectly advise Kraft Foods or Tesco stores.’

On its website, however, MHP notes Mr Morgan’s potential for linking the interests of its clients with government policy.

A former colleague of Morgan’s announced the special adviser’s move to the DoH saying, ‘Health Mandate’s clients and our team of consultants have obviously benefited from Bill’s insights into the direction of Conservative policy. Now, as he prepares to take up a new role, we look forward to continuing to be at the heart of the major policy debates which will shape the future of the NHS.’

And DoH’s hospitality records show that in October 2010 Mr Morgan attended a breakfast meeting with representatives from Health Mandate.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘The breakfast meeting hosted by Mandate was between Mr Morgan and a range of healthcare stakeholders, including several charities, to update them on the government’s NHS plans. He has undertaken similar engagements hosted by other organisations.’

Mr Morgan’s departmental hospitality records show meetings with other companies and organisations, however Mandate are the only public relations company logged.

NHS reforms
MHP represents various private health agencies too and was recently reported to be stepping up its focus on NHS commissioning processes and engaging more closely with GPs, tying nicely with the DoH’s Health and Social Care Bill.

Earlier this year lobbying watchdog Spinwatch revealed leaked emails between Morgan and private healthcare company, Tribal, which appeared to be providing the DoH with a list of pro-privitisation GPs to help convince ministers and the public of the need for further NHS privatisation.

Health Secretary
The health secretary Andrew Lansley, who masterminded the Responsibility Deal, also has past links to organisations representing big companies.

Lansley was a paid director of marketing agency Profero until December 2009. During this time Lansley was also Shadow Secretary of State for Health.

Current clients of Profero include Marks and Spencers and, in its Australian branch, Pizza Hut.

Drinks manufacturer Diageo, producers of Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff and Guinness among others, was added to the company’s client list in February 2011. Diageo provided the health select committee with written evidence in favour of the Public Health Responsibility Deal.

The Conservative Party’s 2010 election manifesto stated that if elected they would ‘ban off-licences and supermarkets from selling alcohol below cost price.’ Since coming to power the coalition government has not gone this far, instead introducing a minimum price of duty plus VAT on alcohol sales in England.

Real concerns
Shadow Public Health Minister Dianne Abbott said she has ‘real concerns about Andrew Lansley’s current Special Adviser Bill Morgan, who used to work for a lobbying firm, who have worked for a lot of ‘big businesses’ with an interest in the regulation of the food industry.’

Abbott continued, ‘It’s a concern because the government’s health strategy is little more than a favour to their friends in big business, with their voluntary initiatives with industry.  You cannot expect big business, which makes billions every year by marketing sugary, fatty and unhealthy foods to willingly limit its own profiteering.  ‘Responsibility deals’ just camouflage the fact the government is refusing to take action on issues like trans-fats and binge-drinking.’

A Department of Health spokesman responded to questions over conflict of interests saying, ‘Andrew Lansley’s non-executive position with Profero is well documented and was listed in the Register of Member’s Interests before he became Secretary of State for Health. He stepped down from the role, which did not involve direct work for any Profero clients, before he was appointed Secretary of State for Health.’

‘Bill Morgan’s previous employment at what is now MHP Communications is also a matter of public record. He did not work on Tesco or Kraft accounts while employed there, and had no professional contact with either organisation in this time. There are no conflicts of interest in either case.’