CBI emails were deleted says Electoral Commission as questions remain over cancelled registration

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  By a Newsnet reporter
 
Communications between the Electoral Commission and the CBI that led to a meeting to discuss the independence referendum, have been deleted the electoral watchdog has told Newsnet Scotland.
 
The emails were exchanged prior to a meeting in November which was set up by the commission after the electoral watchdog identified the CBI as a potential No campaigner.

A spokesman for the Electoral Commission said: “I can confirm that the Commission’s Andy O’Neill, Head of Scotland Office and our Senior Referendum Officer attended the first meeting and delivered the presentation that we have sent you.

“This meeting was set up through an email exchange with the CBI Scotland office.  The Commission contacted the CBI with a general email, which was sent to other potential campaigners, regarding the referendum rules and offered a meeting.”

However, responding to a request from Newsnet Scotland for a copy of the emails, the spokesman said they had been deleted.

“As the emails were no longer required for business purposes they were deleted.”

Existence of the emails emerged after Newsnet Scotland pursued the commission over an earlier FOI request which resulted in documents being released which indicated both parties had discussed the referendum.

In the documents, CBI Director John Cridland made reference to advice his organisation had received which led them to register as an official campaigner on behalf of the No campaign.  The Electoral Commission, pressed by Newsnet Scotland, subsequently admitted two private meetings had taken place prior to the CBI submitting the initial registration application.

Further enquiries by Newsnet Scotland revealed emails had been exchanged between the two bodies prior to a meeting in November 2013 and again in January 2014.

The emails in which the second meeting was arranged have been handed to Newsnet Scotland and they reveal that CBI Scotland Chief Ian McMillan was included in the exchanges which were sent to the man who would eventually co-sign the registration form on behalf of the CBI, Richard Maughan.

The revelation that McMillan was part of the exchanges lends weight to suggestions that CBI Scotland was involved in the decision to register with the Electoral Commisison.

It also challenges CBI Director John Cridland’s version of events in which he claims that the decision was taken by a lone junior official in London.

The emergence of Ian MacMillan’s name brings the number of CBI officials involved in the registration process to four.  He joins head of political campaigns, Richard Maughan, and senior campaigns advisor, Jon Harrison.

The fourth CBI figure is Martha Spearpoint, who is described as the Directorate Administrator, Campaigns at CBI.  She also occasionally fields requests across the team.

Spearpoint was included in an email on April 16th from the Electoral Commission which confirmed the application to register as an official campaigner on behalf of Better Together, had been accepted.

However controversy surrounded the CBI decision to register as an official No supporter and after a plea from John Cridland, the Electoral Commission nullified the application on May 1st.

Newsnet Scotland has asked the Electoral Commission for the email addresses used to send the now deleted messages to the CBI.  We have also requested the names of CBI officials who attended the private meetings and whether CBI Director John Cridland featured in any of the deleted email communications.

Despite the CBI adopting a stance in opposition to Scottish independence, the BBC has refused to cancel its own £22,000 annual membership of the London based lobbying group.