News 28th Jul 2021

New updates to our lobbying transparency tool, Open Access

Rose Whiffen

Research Officer

Rose is a Research Officer specialising in political corruption. Her work covers issues of money in politics, lobbying, the revolving door and open governance. She was a key researcher and writer of Transparency International UK's 'House of Cards' report which explored access and influence in UK housing policy and contributed to other reports, such as 'Track and Trace', which explored Covid procurement. She's previously held roles at Democracy Club and Spotlight on Corruption, and completed an MA in Corruption and Governance from the University of Sussex.

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Lobbying stories have received their fair share of attention in the media recently. And rightly so. The emerging lessons from Greensill show how privileged access in Whitehall can be secured by those with the right connections, especially former Prime Ministers. Elsewhere, the scramble to secure government contracts during the pandemic reportedly gummed-up the emergency response, delaying civil servants’ capacity to secure PPE.

These stories, and many more, are critical to providing transparency and accountability over those entrusted with significant power and substantial amounts of public money. They rely on piecing together fragments of information, some of which are hiding in plain sight. Often, this includes establishing who met which minister, when and what was discussed.

So where can you find this?

One of the main things that might be standing in your way is the fragmented approach that the UK Government has to publishing lobbying information.

Under the ministerial code, ministers should report any discussions concerning official business – including during social occasions – to their departments, who must disclose this information quarterly. However, there are over 20 different departments and each of these publishes this transparency data on their own website. There is no central location that users could use to answer questions like ‘which department has met the most lobbyists this year?’ or ‘how many times has Company X met with ministers in the last quarter, and about what?’

The Committee on Standards and Public Life, England’s standards watchdog, recommended earlier this year that the Cabinet Office should ‘collate all departmental transparency releases and publish them in one centrally managed database’. We agree, but until government heeds this call, our tool, Open Access, fills the gap.

We’ve compiled over 1,000 departmental disclosures into one, searchable platform, which includes all reported meetings between ministers and lobbyists since 2012. So if, for example, you wanted to find out what official meetings the Secretary of State for the Department of Health and Social Care had with companies that then went on to secure COVID contracts, you could with the click of a button.

We introduced the tool back in 2018 and in the spirit of making it the most user-friendly it can be, we’ve made many iterations and tweaks to improve it.

This year is no different and we’re happy to announce three new features:

  1. Each meeting now has a unique, shareable URL link. This allows users to flag meetings more quickly and will make it easier to link directly to meetings in web stories and on social media.



  1. We've made sending Freedom of Information requests about individual meetings easier by creating pre-populated FOI forms. These include standard information such as asking for the minutes, agenda and the names of those who attended. The text of the request can be edited but will hopefully serve as a good starting point for a more detailed request or for those in a rush!



  1. And last but not least, we’ve included a new donate button for those who want to support the tool. Open Access is the only database that collates all the government’s ministerial meetings data in one place but compiling and cleaning the data is time consuming work. We are committed to keeping the tool free to use, so any contributions towards its upkeep and future development will be greatly appreciated.