Thursday, March 23, 2006

Capita and the Blair network

Guido - easily the best-informed UK political blogger - runs a piece on links between Capita and New Labour, as mediated through the New Local Government Network.

At the centre of the nexus are NLGN alumni Ruth Turner, personally appointed by Tony Blair as Special Adviser for Government Relations, and Ben Lucas of PR firm LLM Communications.

His Fawkesness also helpfully draws attention to the following PQ, tabled by Peterborough Tory Stewart Jackson:

To ask the Prime Minister, if he will list meetings his Adviser on Government Relations has had with (a) Capita, (b) organisations acting on behalf of Capita and (c) Mr Rod Aldridge in the last 18 months; what the purpose of the meeting was in each case; and if he will make a statement.

While we await the answer on this one - and it will doubtless be intriguing - here’s the skinny on NLGN, in yet another extract from Labour Party plc:

Local government is also now an important market for the private sector, with contracts on offer worth something like £5bn a year. Council-oriented contractors enjoy a ready-made circle of influential New Labour friends, in the shape of the New Local Government Network.

Endorsed by the Prime Minister himself, this group is an ideologically Blairite caucus of around 1,750 Labour councillors and others, seeking to develop a ‘modernisation agenda’ for local government.

In plain English, this largely entails advocating increased private sector input into public services. NLGN often works closely with the Confederation of British Industry in organising road shows, away days and other events.

NLGN has heavily pushed the mayor/cabinet/manager model of local governance as a replacement for traditional local democracy. Such arrangements facilitate direct dealings with business, without the tiresome need to win the vote of the majority of councillors.

In its own words, NLGN is ‘a relatively small independent research and campaign organisation’ with six full-time staff and a turnover of £650,000 a year, but one that ‘continues to have an influence and an impact that is arguably well above and beyond this limited resource’.

The network is chaired by Professor Gerry Stoker of the University of Manchester, also a member of the Institute for Public Policy Research Commission on Public–Private Partnerships. Founder Lord Filkin is a former head of the Association of District Councils, and the husband of sacked parliamentary watchdog Elizabeth Filkin.

Other key figures include Professor Paul Corrigan, partner of former Local Government minister Hilary Armstrong. Corrigan lobbies on behalf of firms pitching for NHS contracts, while at the same time advising Secretary of State for Health Alan Milburn on PPPs.

He is joined on the executive by figures such as Ben Lucas of cash for access lobby firm Lawson Lucas Mendelsohn, CBI official Amanda McIntyre and KPMG corporate affairs director Neil Sherlock.

Just to illustrate that the traffic travels both ways, former NLGN executive director John Williams has recently been appointed market development director of PFI player Serco.

The NLGN’s 37 sponsors – openly thanked for providing ‘intellectual and financial support’ – include Andersen Consulting, Amec, Amey, BT, Capita, Carillion, the CBI, the Corporation of London, Deutsche Bank, Jarvis, KPMG, ICL, Nord Anglia, Onyx, Serco, Serviceteam, Sodexho, W.S. Atkins and Xerox. Many of these companies stand to benefit from the policies they pay the NLGN to push forward.

(Hat tip: Blood and Treasure)

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