The influence some industries have over public policy should be of concern to us all, argues Dr Evelyn Gillan, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland
The business of business is business. Businesses exist to provide goods and services to customers for profit. This means they will try to influence any policy changes that might impact on sales to protect their profits. This all seems very obvious, but what is not always obvious is who is lobbying for or against change on behalf of business.
The evidence sessions for the Scottish Parliament’s Inquiry into Lobbying are well underway and responses are now to view available online. No summary has been made available yet, but a quick look over the responses from charities and individuals suggests that over half, including leading Scottish charities, are actually in favour of a register of lobbying. Some expressed reservations over any potential administrative or financial implications, but that is quite different from the statement that charities want it “scrapped”.
From our reading of the responses, the majority of respondents calling for it to be “scrapped” represent private lobbyists and public affairs firms.
Alcohol Focus Scotland is supportive of the proposal for a lobbying register to improve transparency and accountability in lobbying activity.
Alcohol Focus Scotland is supportive of the proposal for a lobbying register to improve transparency and accountability in lobbying activity. We believe that full public disclosure of all lobbying activity is required to demonstrate the integrity of policy and political decision-making processes. We are concerned that powerful, corporate interests are able to ‘buy’ greater access to decision-makers, with the risk that they exert a disproportionate influence over the policy process.
Research into corporate lobbying activity in relation to Scotland’s alcohol strategy demonstrates that corporate actors use a range of channels to influence policy formation and implementation. Industry actors lobby directly and indirectly through numerous trade associations, as well as contracting external public affairs agencies to advance their positions. Put simply, it is not always clear who is lobbying on behalf of big business.
Whether it’s the food, tobacco, alcohol or oil industry, tactics will be used by powerful operators to oppose legitimate public health and environmental policy interventions.
This happens in spite of the precedence given in domestic and EU law to the protection of human health over economic interests.
The influence that some industries seem to have over public policy should be of concern to us all.