Last Monday the APPC Management Committee voted to recommend to the Association’s membership that it should merge with the PRCA. This was one of the final acts in a process that has been playing out for months and years; really since the Government established its own register of lobbyists. From that day on the demise of the APPC has been inevitable. It is now an idea whose time has come.
As well as being a board member of the PRCA these days I was very glad to serve on the management committee of the APPC for several years, including a stint as Deputy Chair. So I do not approach debates about the future of the organisation with anything other than affection and respect. The APPC has played an honourable and important role in regulating and professionalising our industry over the years. That history should not be forgotten.
However, three things have happened that have convinced me that the APPC is now an anachronism. First, as mentioned, the Government has legislated and introduced its own lobbying register. Like many in the industry I have severe reservations about the legislation and what it has introduced, but the simple fact is that it is there, and thus most agencies now have three registers to sign up to, each with different rules. In other words, it is a mess that should be streamlined.
Second, the PRCA register has increasingly established itself as credible, and the disciplinary regime that underpins it as effective. The truth is that the PRCA code of conduct is pretty much indistinguishable from the APPC, and crucially the proposal for the merger makes clear that the PRCA will adopt significant elements of the APPC approach, including its independence. More to the point, the PRCA has a track record of enforcing its rules. In short, self-regulation is already safe in the PRCA’s hands; and the introduction of the APPC and its ethos into the mix will only strengthen what is there already.
Third, there is every likelihood that the Government will before long revisit regulation of our sector, particularly if there is a general election. At that point having a confused and overlapping system of regulation and registration will be a weakness, not a strength; and failing to have a strong, unified, voice for our sector will be our Achilles heel. Bringing it all together in a professionally run, powerful, single entity is vital if self-regulation, or for that matter any sort of workable regulation, is to survive.
When it comes to the APPC-wide vote I hope my fellow public affairs professionals vote with their heads as well as their hearts. I hope they ignore those who hanker for a gilded past that never really existed. I hope they do not allow their own and others’ personal affinities and interests to shape their decision-making. I hope they will read the actual proposal and realise that what will emerge will bring together the best of both worlds. In our hearts we all know that now is the time for change. Time to make it happen.