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Doctorin’ the spin

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In August 2010, the Guardian reported on communities secretary Eric Pickles‘ announcement of “tough new rules” to “lower the cost of politics and increase transparency”, by abolishing the practice of town halls and public bodies hiring lobbyists.

He said he wanted to end “lobbying on the rates”, whereby local councils and quangos used public money to employ firms to lobby the government.
[…]
The new rules take the form of an amended statutory Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity, which is intended to stop campaigns being run from public funds.

As well as the practice of “government lobbying government”, Mr Pickles mentioned “propaganda on the rates” aimed at the public, that “weakens our democracy”:

“So-called town hall newspapers are already closing down scrutiny from independent local papers. Now, lobbyists are being used to sidestep transparency laws and shadowy figures are peddling more regulation and special favours.”

Fast forward to April 2011, and Marketing Birmingham announced a new job vacancy in the ‘Go HS2‘ campaign:

Go-HS2 Media Officer

(Fixed-term 9 months)
36½ hours per week
£28,579 – £32,790 per annum

Key players from the West Midlands private and public sectors have joined forces to launch Go-HS2 – a consortium in support of the proposed high speed rail link between Birmingham and London.

Go-HS2 is a collaboration between The NEC Group, Birmingham Airport, Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, Business Birmingham, the city’s inward investment agency, Birmingham City Council and transport authority Centro.

The consortium is now looking for an experienced and dynamic media person to help co-ordinate and develop the Go-HS2 campaign, in print, broadcast and social media, during the on-going HS2 public consultation and project development.

The post is initially for nine months and will be based at Centro House in Birmingham city centre. It will involve raising Go-HS2’s media profile and ensuring that the economic and transport case for HS2 is effectively communicated and clearly understood, helping to ensure a balanced debate. This will be a high profile and challenging post that will require keen media skills and a familiarity with wider public relations practices.

For further details please e-mail jobs@centro.org.uk or contact Human Resources on 0121 214 7143 (answer phone) today to obtain an application form and role profile.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Closing date: Friday 22nd April 2011

Interview date: Monday 9th May 2011

For some time, Birmingham City Council has been a participant in the HSR:UK group of 11 British cities lobbying for (not researching into) high speed rail:

“The intention of this group is not to decide the route for HSR or the cities it should serve – that must be based on economic assessments and passenger modelling. Our objective is simply to make a strong case for its realisation.”

Both Centro and Birmingham City Council have been engaged with Jim Steer’s lobbying company Greengauge 21, for example, through the latter’s oddly named Public Interest Group (which has no members of the public on it). Centro has also engaged in its own promotional activity for HS2, and is prominently involved with another publicly funded campaign known as High Speed 2 West Midlands. So it’s not clear why yet another lobbying campaign is being set up, using public funds. How much money has been spent by each West Midlands local authority on HS2 related lobbying isn’t clear.

from Twitter, Alex Burrows describes himself as a lobbyist, and is "responsible for political stuff at Centro"What does seem clear is the intent of the revised Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity – namely, to stop local authorities hiring lobbyists, engaging in lobbying on matters of political controversy, or producing publicity that isn’t objective or even-handed.


Go HS2 tweetingI can’t see a basis under which the Go-HS2 Media Officer post, and the Go-HS2 campaign itself (already underway) could be compatible with the revised Publicity Code, or the wider set of activities with which local authorities should be concerned. Ditto for other pro- and anti-HS2 campaigns funding provided by local authorities. As far as Centro is concerned, long distance transport is not part of its core remit, so the massive pressure on the public finances makes its HS2 lobbying even more squalid.

3 Responses

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  1. […] goes some way towards explaining the phenomenon of multiple separate PR campaigns for HS2. In the West Midlands alone, Birmingham City Council, Centro, High Speed 2 West Midlands, and Go-HS2 have all undertaken […]

  2. […] campaign was established in the first half of 2011, and in April of that year Marketing Birmingham advertised the position of Go HS2 Marketing […]

  3. […] April 2011, Marketing Birmingham advertised for a “temporary” Go-HS2 ‘Media Officer’, […]


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