The Prime Minister and the Chancellor wrote forewords. So did ministers Michael Gove and Nick Gibb.*
The heavily-endorsed publication attracting such interest is The Parliamentary Review, described as ‘an indispensable guide to industry best practice…’ Its executive director Daniel Yossman says the annual publication gives ‘organisations in the private and public sector the chance to share their sector-specific knowledge and insight with their peers and with policy makers.’
You’d be forgiven for thinking The Parliamentary Review was an official government publication and being included in its pages would be official government endorsement of ‘best practice’. But it isn’t.
The Times, (17 February 2018 behind paywall) says The Parliamentary Review is published by Westminster Publications which, despite its name, is not published by Parliament nor Westminster.
The Review’s website does say it is independent but the impression given by the name of the publication and publisher, endorsement by ministers and MPs, and an Annual Gala at the Palace of Westminster suggest otherwise.
The Times reports how organisations included in the Review’s glossy pages think they've been specially chosen. But they are wrong. The Mirror which reported the story earlier in February explained how it works. Former Secretary of State for Local Government and Communities Sir Eric Pickles, chair of The Parliamentary Review, sends out emails to potential organisations asking them if they would like to feature. If chosen, they would be invited to a ‘celebratory evening in January to mark the Review’s release’.
What Sir Eric Pickles’ email didn’t say was that organisations which took the bait would be asked to pay around £3000 for inclusion.
An internet search for ‘Parliamentary Review prestigious’ will reveal page after page of organisations boasting how they’ve been ‘selected’ or ‘chosen’ to appear in The Parliamentary Review.
But inclusion in The Parliamentary Review comes at a price.
The Times raises concerns about whether featured organisations are really examples of best practice. One school featured in the 2016/17 edition, Boldon School, a community school in Tyne and Weir, has been judged to require improvement in its last three inspections.
Yossman told the Mirror ‘The cost of involvement, which is made clear in the first phone conversation a potential representative has, is in keeping with the cost of a two or three page spread in comparable publications.’
In other words, inclusion in The Parliamentary Review is a glossy advert. But some of those who paid to be featured think they’ve been endorsed by a ‘government publication’ (see here, here and here for examples).
The Parliamentary Review isn’t a government publication. Yet inclusion in its pages is deemed prestigious. But recommendations which are purchased aren't independent endorsements. And when public bodies such as schools and hospitals pay to be featured, it raises the question about whether buying 'endorsement' is a proper use of public money.
* It will come as no surprise that Gibb's foreword includes the regurgitated stock phrase about £1.8 million more pupils in good or outstanding schools than in 2010.