The APPC is the Association of Professional Political Consultants. It was established in 1994 and is a representative and regulatory body for political consultants across the UK. There are almost 40 member companies, seven in Scotland.

Our membership consists of companies that provide political consultancy services as a commercial undertaking.

By its nature political consultancy, or public affairs, is not a particularly high profile area of human endeavour. On a daily basis consultants function, to all intents and purposes, as a part of the extended communications team of each of our clients. We work ‘behind the scenes’, operating as the eyes and ears of our clients, as a source of information, advice and counsel, and assisting with the development and implementation of communications strategies.

The majority of our communications is with clients, rather than with the Parliament or Executive. However, the nature of our work means that we do often deal directly with MSPs, researchers, Ministers, Civil Servants, party staff, policy advisers and special advisers. It is because this interaction forms a key element of what political consultants do that the APPC exists, and that we have code of conduct to set standards for the way in which we work.

The APPC code of conduct is designed to ensure high standards from consultants in all aspects of their work with clients, and in all aspects of their communications with the body politic. Amongst other things, the 16 point code requires openness, honesty and transparency, and prevents any form of inappropriate relationship (whether financial or ‘in kind’) with elected members or their representatives.

The Code forms part of the contract of employment of every person employed by a member consultancy – which means that any breach of the code is also a breach of contract.

APPC Scotland meets approximately six times a year and functions to represent the interests of members both externally, and on the UK’s APPC Management Committee. We also work to ensure compliance amongst members, develop membership and to promote understanding of the APPC and of political consultancy. This year our activity has included responding to the Standards Committee consultation on proposals for the MSP Code of Conduct and on expanding our membership base. In 2007, one of our main objectives will be to provide a briefing on the APPC and our code of conduct to all newly elected MSPs.

Four times a year, in the spirit of openness, we publish a register of our members, which also lists all the consultants they employ, and all their clients. This register is lodged with the Scottish Parliament (Standards Committee, Presiding Officer and SPiCE) and with the Scottish Executive. It is also available on the APPC website.

The APPC Code of Conduct is the most robust document of its type, and it is our hope that, eventually, all companies engaged in political consultancy will be signatories to the code, or at least operate in such a way as to be compliant with its principles. As a ‘behind the scenes’ element of the political landscape, it is vital that, even if people don’t know precisely what it political consultants do, that they are at least aware that we operate to a set clear set of ethical standards.

Illiam Costain McCade was Secretary of APPC Scotland in 2004-05 and Chair in 2006. He has worked with Grayling Political Strategy in Scotland for almost nine years, latterly as Director.