Big businesses have been paying £1,800 per head to hobnob with ministers and civil servants at events organized by networking company ‘Chemistry Club’, reports The Guardian.
The chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, the policing minister, Nick Herbert, and climate change minister, Lord Taylor, have all appeared at these invitation-only events.
The Chemistry Club runs two main series of networking events. One, called the Climate Change Forum, focuses on energy and climate change, while the other on IT and technology. The club’s website states that the evenings “are not social gatherings but ‘work events’” that “represent an exceptionally good use of attendees’ time.”
Senior executives from Apple, Shell, Atos, GlaxoSmithKline, Citigroup, Barclays, BP, Shell and the Royal Bank of Scotland have attended these events in the past.
The Cabinet Office issued guidance in August 2010 to departments telling civil servants not to attend Chemistry Club events, while admitting it did not know how much companies had been paying to attend the events in the past.
However, senior officials from the Metropolitan police and the intelligence agency GCHQ attended the events even after the ban.
An event in October 2011 was attended by Alexander, officials from the Ministy of Defence and Department of Energy and Climate Change, civil servants from the Department of Health and senior executives from telecom giants Vodafone and Google and energy companies EDF and Gazprom.
Ben Moxham, David Cameron’s special advisor for energy and the environment and a former employee of BP, was at an event on climate change in November, The Guardian has reported.
Mark Simon, chief executive of the Chemistry Club, told The Guardian that the events targeted key decision makers.
“If you look at climate change, for example, we look at who is core to the debate,” he said. “There’s no point inviting someone who no one wants to speak to … The objective of the event is that they walk away having had a handful of relevant conversations.
“It’s about mutuality. The civil servant wants to meet suppliers just as much as the supplier wants to meet with, say, someone at the ministry.”
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Simon said he could not recall if civil servants had been barred from attending the events, but his “sense is there was and then they changed it”.
Jon Trickett, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: “These revelations leave serious questions for David Cameron to answer if he is to avoid the suspicion that lobbyists believe they can buy influence with his government.
“In opposition David Cameron said lobbying was the next scandal waiting to happen, and here we have a company charging thousands of pounds for dinner with his ministers, special advisers and top civil servants.”
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “The Chemistry Club has now changed the way it operates to provide for greater transparency around its operations and attendance enabling civil servants to attend events should they wish to do so. Civil servants’ attendance at such events must be declared in departments, and will be published for the most senior civil servants.”
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