A few years after graduating from King’s with a degree in modern languages, I joined the Institution of Civil Engineers and became Policy Manager. After six years, I joined the Corporate Affairs team at Gatwick Airport, focusing on the EU and contributing to the campaign for a second runway. I then headed to the London Chamber, the capital’s most representative business organisation, to head up the External Relations team, where I’m responsible for representing London business at a vital time as we approach the General and London Mayoral Elections.
What academic/professional qualifications do you have?
BA (Hons) Modern Foreign Languages with Education, King’s College London. Diploma for Graduates in International Relations, University of London International Programmes.
Describe your typical working day.
Like everyone I’m sure, my day usually starts with checking and answering emails on the train. That’s the only typical part as from there on each day is different. Instead of going straight to the office I often have to attend breakfast briefings and events. When I do finally reach my desk, I can find myself doing anything from producing public affairs strategies and approving briefings for politicians, to helping to respond to press enquiries and having regular updates with members of my team. I might then go off for briefings in Westminster and City Hall, or to provide an interview for the media. I rarely finish at 5pm, as I get invited to lots of evening receptions and events with our members and political stakeholders.
How did you get into public affairs? Was it by choice or by chance?
Part choice, part accident. I had been a student officer at university, so I did have a keen interest in politics and influencing change. Only after trying a few others roles did I decide to pursue in career in public policy.
After working for six years in your first policy role at the Institution of Civil Engineers, how challenging was it both in moving sectors and into a corporate in-house role?
Moving to Gatwick Airport from ICE wasn’t a complete change. I’d held the transport policy portfolio at ICE, where I authored a few aviation-related policy reports, so I started with a good high-level grasp of the sector. However, writing about airports and working for one is completely different. The nature of the work was so much more technical. I had to familiarise myself with the complex, highly specialist operations of other teams in order for me to do my job effectively.
As for working for a corporate-in house, the main difference was pace: pace of working and pace of change. If the Board or Management want to change course or set a new priority, then it happens very quickly, unlike a membership body, where securing member buy-in is essential and can take longer.
What approach have you found works best in developing policy? What process do you follow?
It depends on the type of organisation. When employed by a charity working for the benefit of society, I would gather the evidence first, draw conclusions and with the expert members agree messages and recommendations. I would not use the same approach for a private business, where I would work out what the corporate position is first, then find the evidence to back it up.
How does the LCCI engage its members in the External Affairs strategy?
We have a number of policy advisory committees made up of members of the Chamber that we use to help us shape our policies and external affairs priorities. We also poll our members regularly and host member engagement events, like roundtables.
Which campaign/issue are you most proud to have been involved with?
Making the case for infrastructure to become a top public policy priority. For too long infrastructure planning and delivery in the UK was slow, incremental, inefficient and uncoordinated. The UK lagged behind most of our closest international competitors for infrastructure. The poor state of our existing assets and limited number of new approvals was holding back the UK’s economic performance.
After a long campaign, in 2010 the Government published the first National Infrastructure Plan, setting out a much needed vision of where infrastructure investment should be allocated to underpin economic growth. Improvements are still needed, but the NIP was a significant first step.
What do you enjoy about working in public affairs?
Anything is possible. No matter how uphill the struggle, running a strong campaign, building the right coalitions and persuading the most influential with a good business case and compelling evidence can move mountains.
Has the LCCI developed a political engagement strategy for the run-up to the General Election? Briefly outline the key messaging and activity.
Yes. We’re focusing on a small number of key priorities that are vital for the success of London business and the future of the capital as a whole, including:
- Improvements and upgrades to the capital’s transport system to keep London moving and unlock land for essential new commercial and residential development;
- Ensuring sufficient numbers of young people are learning the skills that business actually needs to remain competitive, grow and thrive;
- Securing more financial freedom for London so it can invest in, prioritise and deliver more quickly the infrastructure projects needed to keep the capital internationally competitive.
Tactically, we will be drawing on our body of research, hosting events with political speakers, targeted lobbying and proactively engaging the media.
How would you define the difference between working in ‘policy’ and ‘public affairs’?
In my experience there’s not that much difference. Policy roles are part of the wider public affairs industry. Policy wonks can be involved in as much stakeholder management, government relations and corporate communications work as public affairs operatives are involed in the production of intellectual content, such as briefings, consultation responses and reports. Both types of roles are ultimately there to influence public policy so anyone looking to break into a career in public affairs should grab opportunities with either job title with both hands.
What’s been the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
Think of the business first, public affairs second. As public affairs practitioners we should already know all the tricks of the trade. We should spend the majority of our time immersing ourselves in the company; the more we know about a firm, the better job we can do of representing it.
If you could timetravel back to the start of your working life, what advice would you give yourself?
Take it more seriously. During university I did not spend enough time thinking about the type of career I wanted and I left rather directionless. Back in 2002 jobs were plentiful so there was less pressure to make a decision, but I wish I had. I could not have done that in today’s market so I feel very lucky.
Assuming a UK in-out EU referendum in 2017, what’s your prediction for the result?
In, but it would be a close result.
What’s your prediction for the General Election result?
Very tricky one at the moment (January 2015). I’ll have to say another coalition and I’ll stick my neck out and say Con-Lib.