CONCERNS have been raised about Labour candidates in the upcoming General Election being simultaneously employed by lobbying firms.

The former director of the Better Together campaign, Blair McDougall, was announced as Scottish Labour’s candidate for East Renfrewshire in November.

However, McDougall is also employed as a senior strategist at lobbying firm Arden Strategies, which is led by former Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy.

The firm, which describes itself as “non-partisan”, has an entire department, the Labour Directorate, to provide “clients with unrivalled insights into Labour policies, priorities, and personalities”.

It also had a large presence at the party’s recent conference in Glasgow.

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Currently, the Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists only requires firms to be transparent about whether they have lobbied UK Government ministers on behalf of a third-party.

Yet no such standard is required of lobbyists who facilitate meetings between opposition parties and big business, even if the frontbenchers attending those meetings are likely to become ministers within the year.

According to research by openDemocracy, at least 20 of Labour’s candidates in the upcoming election are current or former corporate lobbyists, with some working for firms which boast clients such as Amazon, defence contractor Raytheon, and British American Tobacco.

Campaigners say that simultaneously acting as both lobbyist and candidate justifiably leads to concerns about how much influence firms - and the companies that employ them - may have over future MPs.

The National: Blair McDougall works for lobbying firm Arden StrategiesBlair McDougall works for lobbying firm Arden Strategies

The director of Global Justice Now, Nick Dearden, said such arrangements may contribute to the erosion of trust in politicians.

“Politicians must be accountable to the public – not corporations,” he said.

“So, it should rightly worry us whenever we see potential conflicts of interest which may arise from politicians holding dual roles in lobbying firms that serve corporate interests.

“Across the political spectrum, there are numerous examples of the corrosive effect that the blurring of these boundaries has had on democracy and trust in politics.

“At the end of the day, how can we expect people to place trust in those whose ability to solely represent the public interest may be compromised?”

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Alastair McCapra, the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), said the holding of dual roles as both candidate and lobbyist needed to be addressed by lobbying reform.

"This issue was not on the agenda when the current legislation was framed,” he told the Sunday National.

“That may seem like an oversight, but regulating opposition politicians is less straightforward than it is with governments and civil servants.

“Ultimately, the purpose of any regulation is to promote transparency and trust, so we need a conversation about how best to do this as part of the wider discussion about lobbying reform.

“If elected, there should be no suggestion that former clients or employees are favoured or that they enjoy privileged access to ministers or other decision-makers.

“The CIPR is campaigning for reform of the 2014 Lobbying Act and we believe that the public has a legitimate interest in knowing who is trying to influence policy and regulation.

“In our view, any lobbyist - whether standing as a candidate or not - should be required to declare their activities. The present law does not allow that and that has to change.”

MPs are banned from undertaking paid work for lobbying firms once they are elected but candidates are permitted to work as paid lobbyists right until the point of their election.

Scottish Labour and Arden Strategies did not respond to requests for comment.