REVEALED: Colleges Scotland Hire Secretive SNP-linked Lobbyists in Battle Against Lecturers

A secretive lobbying firm with high level links to the SNP has been hired by Colleges Scotland, it has been alleged, as further education lecturers strike into their fourth week in a dispute over pay and conditions.

Thousands of lecturers at colleges across Scotland have walked out on selected days over the past month, now set to escalate to three days of strike action a week until a settlement is reached. The origins of the dispute lie in a deal between the lecturers’ union, the EIS Further Education Lecturers Association (EIS-FELA), and the employers’ association, Colleges Scotland, last year – itself a bid to avert strike action. The deal was meant to iron out differences in pay and conditions at colleges across the country,  but one year later has still not been implemented.

Huge picket lines have been seen outside colleges in recent days and the dispute has been described as the “most serious” in Scottish education since the mass teachers’ strikes of 1985-86. Yet lecturers’ have complained that there has been little press coverage of the strike days, even taking their picket lines to the doors of the BBC and STV last week.

Now it has emerged that an influential lobbying organisation based in Edinburgh, Charlotte Street Partners (CSP), is crisis managing the dispute on behalf of Colleges Scotland.  CSP refuse to disclose its client list yet enjoys well publicised and high level links with the SNP and Scottish Government. The claim regarding CSP was first made by Labour MSP Neil Findlay and has been supported by sources within the union. Concerns have been raised that the firm, which had no prior relationship to Colleges Scotland, may have been taken on due to its connections with the Scottish Government.

Key figures within CSP – launched in 2014 – include Andrew Wilson, a former SNP MSP who is now heading up the party’s much vaunted “Growth Commission”, charged with putting in place a strategy for a “strong and stable” economy under independence. Kevin Pringle, formerly head of strategic comms for the SNP, also joined CSP in late 2015. Alongside Wilson, the firm’s other managing partner is Malcolm Robertson, son of a Labour peer and brother in law of Sarah Smith, Scotland editor for BBC News.

CSP have come under fire for their cosy relationship with the Scottish Government, which has included hosting receptions and wining and dining special advisors. The firm has a track record in the education sector, having successfully lobbied on behalf of university principals two years ago to roll back on bits of the Higher Education Bill they didn’t like. Other clients have included First Group, undergound coal gasification firm Cluff Natural Resources, and Abellio. In April, The Ferret revealed CSP have been “lobbying for Rupert Murdoch papers”.

CSP would not be the only PR firm taken on by Colleges Scotland. A recent FOI request revealed nearly £500,000 was spent by the organisation on consultants between October 2012 and July 2016, although they refused to break this down further. CSP do not feature on the list, although over this time there were numerous short term contracts for “public affairs” work with other firms, such as Grayling.

According to Grayling’s register, they represented the Colleges Scotland Employers’ Association as recently as February, just weeks ahead of the EIS issuing a ballot to their members in colleges. A curious time, perhaps, for Colleges Scotland to suddenly decide to hire CSP.


Further Reading:

Revealed: Serco Hire SNP-linked Lobbyists in Bid to Privatise CalMac

Why Are We Still Building PFI Schools?

Who’s Been Selling Scotland’s Water?


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6 responses to “REVEALED: Colleges Scotland Hire Secretive SNP-linked Lobbyists in Battle Against Lecturers

  1. Would you mind explaining a bit more about what Colleges Scotland is? Employer’s organisation for tertiary education? Secondary? Private?

    Amazing the strike hasn’t been better publicised: sounds like a gift for SNP Bad media.

  2. I saw the demo in George Square on Wednesday and that was the first I had even heard of the strike. Says a lot about our media.

  3. Err, from the Guardian last week:

    “Malcolm Robertson, a founding partner of the powerful strategic communications agency Charlotte Street Partners, and the son of Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, the former secretary general of Nato and defence secretary.”

    Given that the info above was in a national newspaper, it seems unlikely that CSP is a ‘secretive lobbying firm with high level links to the SNP’. Given the founder is married to one of John Smith’s daughters, perhaps you meant ‘Labour party links’?

    • as the article makes clear, they have links to both the SNP and Labour. But Labour are not the government in Scotland, nor in charge of Further Education. One of their directors is a FORMER MSP for the SNP and CURRENTLY heading up the party’s Growth Commission. How is that not a high level link?

      Furthermore, as the article also states, CSP do NOT DISCLOSE their client list, going against best practice in the PR industry.

      Can you clarify what your issue is again?

      • I think you’re being disingenuous; the article clearly lacks balance

        The headline and first paragraph – the part most people read – mention the SNP and SNP alone; it does not clarify any links to Labour until the end of paragraph 5 – after the graphic, when many people will have skipped out (I sure you’re aware of how reading tails off as readers go through the article).

        Why just ‘SNP-Linked’? Why not ‘high level political links’?

      • It’s not trying to be balanced, it’s trying to shine a light on political manouvering in an industrial dispute which Labour were irrelevant to. They are not in charge of education policy in Scotland – the SNP are.

        I can’t help it if you or anyone else didn’t read the article properly.

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