TWO Holyrood health forums have breached the MSP code of conduct over their relationship with a businesswoman linked to pharmaceutical firms.
The cross-party groups on health inequalities and chronic pain were found to have broken the rules regarding the secretariat provided by Wellbeing Alliance chief executive Jacquie Forde.
Professor David Miller, above, whose complaint sparked the investigation, welcomed the findings but said Parliament should probe further. CPGs bring outside bodies and MSPs together to discuss policy, but fears have been raised about the influence of commercial interests in the groups.
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Forde is listed as secretary of the chronic pain group and secretary and treasurer of the CPG on health inequalities.
She is also CEO of the Wellbeing Alliance, which has worked with pharmaceutical firms. She has also previously been employed by pharma companies.
Her role on the CPGs was described as voluntary, and carried out in her own time, but the Wellbeing Alliance was listed as a member of the two groups.
Miller, a Bath University academic who campaigns for transparency in lobbying, complained about the groups' links to Forde and the Alliance.
CPGs have to declare financial support and Miller argued that "the time she [Forde] donates might be regarded as a cost on the Wellbeing Alliance".
Holyrood's Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee investigated and issued its report last week.
MSPs on the committee noted that it was the Alliance, rather than Forde, that was listed as a member of the groups in the annual returns, adding: "[The rules] do not allow for an individual to volunteer their time on behalf of an organisation."
The committee quoted rules which state that employees of organisations should declare the time spent working on CPGs, as well as noting that Forde is a self-employed director of the Alliance.
The MSPs added that individuals listed as representing organisations on a group could "not then consider themselves to be the secretary in a voluntary capacity".
On this basis, the committee found there was a breach of the code of conduct, but it was not serious enough to warrant a sanction. Forde must now change the status of her membership, or assess the financial value of her time spent on the CPGs.
Revised guidance will be issued to all of the Parliament's groups.
Stewart Stevenson MSP, convener of the Standards Committee, said: "The committee considers that there has been a breach of a rule in the code of conduct. We believe this can be rectified by updating the information these groups must disclose.
"The secretary of the groups must now make clear her status. If she represents an organisation she must assess the financial value of her support and disclose anything totalling over £500."
Miller said: "The Standards Committee clear felt there was no alternative to finding a breach of the rules. The committee should move to requiring a declaration of clients/funding for each group that provides secretariat for CPGs. Otherwise vested interests will be able to sail under the radar by using front groups with no requirement for public disclosure of their involvement."
Malcolm Chisholm MSP, the co-convener of the health inequalities group, said: "There's a minor technical breach in the recording of information and the committee has written to all CPGs to clarify the situation for all."