When meeting people in the industry to talk about the political, policy and regulatory scenes one of the most frequent topics at the moment is the future of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Insurance & Financial Services. There seems to be an assumption on the part of some people that just because a few familiar faces will definitely not be there after the next General Election that the group will face a difficult time. I'm not sure I accept this assumption.
The group has always been one of the most active all party groups and this level of activity is set to be sustained as the financial services sector faces up to some significant regulatory and commercial challenges over the next few years. Certainly, this will all take place against the background of major political change with a General Election within the next year and possible reform of the House of Lords, both of which could significantly change the composition of the group.
The group will have to find a new chairman as John Greenway announced two and a half years ago that he would not be re-standing following the redistribution of his current seat in North Yorkshire (So, what did happen in Thirsk & Malton?). John has chaired the group since 1992, when he succeeded the group's founder chairman Sir Robert McCrindle. Similarly, joint secretary Sir John Butterfill announced sometime ago that he was not seeking re-election. More recently, one of the other joint secretaries, Labour MP Jim Cousins, decided to retire at the next election. All three have been tremendous supporters of the group and have helped ensure that there are MPs who have an understanding of the issues that affect the sector. They will be missed.
With 41 MPs and 26 peers currently members of the group, however, they are far from the complete picture. There is significant interest in Parliament in engaging with the insurance and retail financial services markets and the fact that over half the members of the group have attended at least one event so far in the current session helps underline that point. Just a glance at the programme and the range of organisations that want to meet the group demonstrates that there is similarly plenty of interest outside Parliament in using the group as a vehicle for communicating with policymakers, the principal purpose for which it was established in 1991.
I think the other factor people need to bear in mind is that the APPG has always been run above board. It is not a cloak to disguise a lobbying group like some specialist all party groups. It exists to provide a channel of communication on issues that matter to the insurance and retail financial services sector. We frequently arrange meetings on specific topics for the group to which speakers with differing viewpoints are invited and, sometimes, these will be consumer critics of the industry.
Nobody makes any money out of it. It is not sponsored. We (by which I mean Incisive Media) do not take "membership fees" from outside organisations like some all party groups. The only members are Members of Parliament and most of its meetings are open to whoever wants to attend - even rival publications to those owned by Incisive Media have been known to attend!
We provide the secretariat and administrative support, website and newsletter free of charge. Why? Partially because we identified this as a way we could put something back into the markets we serve and partially because it helps keep us close to events that our markets are interested in. For almost identical reasons PricewaterhouseCoopers provides the technical support on the same basis, writing briefing papers and minutes of the public sessions.
However transparent any new regime is and however restrictive it is in allowing people to make money out of being connected to Parliament, we are confident that this group will come through those tests. So, for as long as Parliamentarians want to hear from the industry and the industry wants to engage with them, the group should have a future.
It is already planning a busy autumn session which will be kicked off by Post Magazine's annual Parliamentary reception, which started in 1989 and is now hosted in conjunction with its Business Leaders' Forum.
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