Nicola Sturgeon 'needs to press pause button' says Nelson
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Under Scotland’s Lobbying Act 2016, any face-to-face meetings between ministers or advisers and outside groups must be registered by those who seek to lobby. However, calls made over the phone, or those instigated by ministers, do not have to be registered under the law. Contact via email or messaging apps also does not have to be registered.
The Herald and investigative outlet the Ferret reported on Monday “hundreds” of meetings were undertaken by Scottish Government officials, but were not reported to the register.
The outlets analysed Scottish ministers’ engagements in 2020, and found some met with companies awarded contracts to supply the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Ferret also noted lobbyists have met with Scottish Government representatives 179 times since March 2018.
The Scottish Government insisted it was “committed to transparency”, adding that “all ministerial engagements are recorded and published, including meetings held via phone calls”.
Neil Bibby, Scottish Labour business manager stated the legislation should be “looked at”.
He said: “These reports raise serious questions about whether Scotland’s lobbying laws are fit for purpose.
“With countless key meetings going unrecorded, it is clear that the SNP are exploiting loopholes to avoid scrutiny.
“These shameless attempts to undermine the spirit of the lobbying act are all too typical from a government constantly avoiding any and all transparency.
“The laws need to be looked at, but legislation can only do so much as long as there is this culture of sleaze and secrecy at the heart of the SNP.”
Stephen Kerr, Scottish Conservative chief whip also said the “gaps” should be addressed “as a matter of urgency”.
Skewering the Scottish Government, he said: “It is all too typical of their attitude in looking at all ways to avoid public scrutiny on their actions or who they are dealing with.
“These meetings must be recorded and documented otherwise this only raises questions for SNP ministers about what they are hiding from the public.
“These gaps in current lobbying regulations must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
“That will help to guarantee there is full transparency surrounding these meetings, so the public are fully aware of the lobbying that is occurring of the SNP government.”
In April, Nicola Sturgeon rejected a claim she was lobbied by an SNP donor over a £650million housing development and then failed to record the meeting.
Reports from the Sunday Mail held senior staff from Springfield Property Ltd met with the First Minister in January 2019, with the scheme granted planning permission later that year.
The firm is owned by Sandy Adam who donated £100,000 to the SNP between 2015 and 2016.
He recorded the meeting in the official lobbying register but reports held there was no record of the meeting in Ms Sturgeon’s official diary.
A SNP spokesperson said at the time: “There was no one-to-one meeting and the First Minister’s engagements have been correctly declared.
“The lobbying register has been contacted to correct the entry.”
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