Worked in Parliament for five years. Branch Secretary of Parliamentary T&G branch. Founding partner of Raynsford and Morris, Head of Government Affairs and Associate Director at GCI. Managing Director of Connect and GPC Connect and then Connect Public Affairs. Owner and Chief Executive of Connect Communications and former Chair of the APPC.
What academic/professional qualifications do you have?
Politics Graduate: Politics Degree at Woolwich Polytechnic (now Greenwich University)
What do you enjoy about working in public affairs?
The politics and the constant change. I also love developing and growing talent and helping people forge successful careers. Achieving successful results for clients.
You had an early childhood political baptism when the then Labour Leader Harold Wilson held you up to a crowd declaring “this is what we’re fighting for”. What was it like growing up in a political family?
I think I am very lucky to have witnessed so many General Elections, changes in government, Churchill’s funeral and party conferences. Meeting and knowing some great politicians at an early age and being able to remember some key political changes and events was formative. At first I thought my Father and Uncle Charlie (both elected in 1964) were like celebrities and felt very proud. Luckily I have Northern roots and am very grounded so I didn’t let it go to my head! The downside is that you probably don’t always see as much of your Dad as you might like but we did have a lot of fun and as far as possible the whole family would tag along, join in campaigning or pop to Parliament to say “Hello”.
Setting up Raynsford & Morris (with Nick Raynsford) as a consultancy following the 1987 General Election, what were your priorities, challenges and successes?
Nick and I took a very risky course setting up a business – almost unheard of for two Labour people without any business experience to set up an agency. Fortunately, it was the right decision and after a lot of hard work, long hours and good advice we became a force to be reckoned with; helping local government, tenant groups, housing associations and charities get results and we proudly achieved a Government climbdown on national TV in our efforts to change the Tory Government’s housing proposals. It was a lot of fun but sometimes when I look back I wonder how we actually did it. I know I had to learn fast how to run a business, manage campaigns and speak in public to rowdy tenants groups around the country. One thing for sure is that there was a need for the product and I think we can claim to have changed and influenced a lot of Conservative housing and welfare policy at local and national level.
You led a management buy-out of Connect in 1998, establishing Connect Public Affairs as an independent company in 1998: what challenges did you overcome? How do these differ to the current challenges facing the public affairs consultancy sector?
It was the only decision I could make but I also didn’t have any money to buy Connect. The plan had been to merge Market Access, Connect and GPC altogether into one big company to form GPC. Mergers and aquisitions seemed to be more prevalent then and it is interesting to note that none survived but Connect has.
We had to ensure that our existing clients would walk with us and that existing staff felt part of the business and our future plans. I always believed that our model and reputation was strong and fortunately with the incoming Labour Government, Connect’s credentials proved popular. Within three years we had paid back what we owed and Connect was firmly established as an independent company. I am not sure what would happen today but I have to say that making Connect one of the longest established independent public affairs companies in the UK is a triumph and something I am enormously proud of.
You’ve been pivotal in the development of the public affairs industry - notably through your role in setting up the APPC - how much work remains to be done to fulfil your vision of ensuring ‘ethical lobbying’ and improving the perception of the industry?
There is still a long way to go and am currently looking at other statutory registers in other countries at how best to achieve a statutory regime that works, is fair, proportionate and delivers transparency. My aim is to ensure that the industry – those operating as third party lobbyists in the UK – is recognised as a force for good and necessary. I think we can do this but we are not helped by the current Lobbying Act.
Which campaign/issue are you most proud to have been involved in securing legislative change? What makes this stand-out in your career?
I think it has to be achieving legislative change to the Adoption and Children’s Act – which gave unmarried couples the right to adopt. It was a very clever campaign and clearly it has made a huge difference to so many people.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? And what single piece of advice would you give to practitioners?
It’s tough at the top – as a young business woman employing people I didn’t realise that as a boss you sometimes need to take a hardline and be unpopular.
Believe in what you do and always try harder.
How important is being politically active to a career in policy and public affairs?
It's not essential but, yes, show your colours and get involved.
What advice would you give to students/fresh graduates considering embarking on a career in public affairs?
It is probably the best career you could have.
If you could time travel back to the start of your career in 1983, what advice would you give yourself?
Believe you can do it.
What's your prediction for the 2015 General Election?
Hung Parliament with Labour as the largest party. Interesting times.