CLAIMS that lobbying firms such as Bell Pottinger have influence over Government policy have been dismissed as “simply untrue” by the Prime Minister’s official spokesman.
Calls for a statutory register of lobbyists were stepped up yesterday after it was revealed that executives from Bell Pottinger were secretly taped claiming to be able to directly influence David Cameron and other senior Government figures on behalf of private sector clients.
But Mr Cameron’s spokesman said companies would do better to go through the official channels to speak to ministers and civil servants about their concerns.
“It simply isn’t true to say that Bell Pottinger or any other lobbying company has influenced Government policy,” said the spokesman. “Clearly it’s in their interests to tell their clients they can provide them with a service and that is what they appear to be doing.”
The spokesman said that Downing Street, the Treasury and the Department for Business were happy to speak to companies about their business concerns in response to direct contacts.
“In my experience, the official process is the best one to pursue,” he said. “If companies want to spend money on lobbyists, that is a matter for them.”
The Independent newspaper revealed yesterday that undercover reporters from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, posing as agents of the government of Uzbekistan, secretly recorded conversations with Tim Collins, managing director of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs.
Mr Collins boasted about his access to the Prime Minister, Chancellor George Osborne, Mr Cameron’s policy chief Steve Hilton and Downing Street chief of staff Ed Llewellyn.
But Lord Bell, chairman of Bell Pottinger’s parent company Chime Communications, said the firm would be making a formal complaint to the Press Complaints Commission about the “sting”.
“There is no public interest in this story,” said Lord Bell.
“There is absolutely no suggestion of any impropriety either. If there was, I would sue them.
In a statement through his lawyers, Lord Bell said: “The conduct of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism does not remotely constitute responsible journalism.
“It is an attempt by unethical, underhand deception to manufacture a story where none exists.”
Mr Collins, a former Tory MP who lost his seat in 2005, told the undercover reporters he had worked with Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne in the Conservative Party’s research department, and Mr Llewellyn had worked under him at Conservative Central Office.
“I’ve been working with people like Steve Hilton, David Cameron, George Osborne for 20 years-plus. There is not a problem getting the messages through,” he said.
He also claimed that Bell Pottinger got Mr Cameron to raise the matter of copyright infringement with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao on behalf of electronics entrepreneur James Dyson.
“He (the Prime Minister) was doing it because we asked him to do it,” he claimed.