The Liberal Democrats courted public sector bodies for a day of party conference hospitality costing £1,545 per head, Scrapbook can reveal. While Nick Clegg preached austerity to the conference hall, guests at the party’s ‘Corporate Day’ watched from their “VIP seating” having already enjoyed a “banquet lunch” offered to taxpayer-funded organisations as part of an aggressive marketing campaign.
In revelations dubbed “cash for access” last month, Liberal Democrats charged a hefty fee for the opportunity to rub shoulder with government ministers. However this is the first time that public sector bodies have been implicated. Emails seen by Scrapbook boast that conference hospitality:
“will provide guests with an unrivalled forum in which to discuss the issues that matter, with the people that matter. Chairmen, CEOs, Directors & clients are invited to join senior Lib Dems for a critical insight into the aims of the Coalition and how our policies are at the very heart of government.”
But this all comes at a price. For the chance to schmooze cabinet ministers a £250-per-head “business dinner” on Monday, guests will have attended Corporate Day, which is another £800. Oh, yeah and you need a conference pass too. That’s £495 for two days. Ker-ching!
Of course, lobbyists and their attendant fringe events, lunches and free booze have been a staple of the party conference season for years. As Luke Pollard’s excellent LabourList post shows, it is unsurprising that Liberal Democrat conference would experience an influx “of Gieves and Hawkes suits” as a governing party. But the hypocrisy of providing Tories with political cover for slash-and-burn cuts while having spent months encouraging public bodies to pay through the nose for access should be obvious even to Liberal Democrat ministers.
Announcing plans to bring forward regulation on public affairs, Nick Clegg told parliament:
“Lobbying is a legitimate activity as long as it is out in the open, and we will ensure that there is a statutory register of all lobbyists so that that is completely above board and entirely transparent.” – Nick Clegg
In this new spirit of transparency, perhaps the Lib Dems will disclose who attended their cash-for-access dinner?