I started my career as an intern in 10 Downing Street, working on PMQs. After jobs in engineering and tourism, I joined the Comms team at the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG) for 5 years. After catching up on sleep, I delivered a private rail campaign and then secured the public affairs and EU brief at the FSB last summer.
BA and MA in Legislative Studies from the University of Hull – part of the Hull/Lord Norton mafia in Westminster. And British Sign Language Level 1.
What does your current role entail on a day to day basis?
I talk to politicians in all parties about the key issues faced by small businesses, and then we try to find solutions. So any day can involve briefing on business rates, energy costs, late payments or the impact of tube strikes – working closely with Policy and Media in London, as well as our regions/devolveds and HQ up in Blackpool.
How much of your job involves EU engagement?
The balance varies each day, and that’s one of the challenges as demand shifts. But there are lots of synergies between the two. Today the EU work is about 80% as we are about to launch our manifesto in the European Parliament.
With such a broad issue-remit working with a large organisation as the FSB, how do you spread your public affairs team? Are there plans to grow the department?
Prioritising is absolutely key – if you list key policy areas you end up with over 30. So we focus on our top 10, allocating different team members as leads on key topics and Bills. Most recently we’ve been event organizers, with our first ever Policy Conference, securing the Prime Minister for the first FSB event in our 40-year history – and the Chancellor attended too.
I am recruiting to the team as we speak, so that we have someone who leads on UK/MPs at Westminster and someone who leads on England/MPs in their constituencies. The deadline is 14th Feb, so for more information and to apply please see our advert on the PubAffairs Jobs Board.
Before joining the FSB you worked in an Interim role: how did this differ from your other permanent posts?
After working on an Olympic and Paralympic Games you have to down-tools and recuperate. So I went on holiday for 3 months. The interim job at the Association of Train Operating Companies was a surprise but perfect - I had the interview one day, job offer the next, and started the day after that. I had a 3-month phased campaign to deliver around some research, which culminated in a reception with Sir John Major making his first rail industry appearance since privatisation. It was a great highlight to finish a job.
You uniquely spent five years at the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games: what was it like in LOCOG?
It was, without a doubt, a dream role and a huge privilege. I started off when the whole LOCOG team could fit into one room and there’d be spare space left over. Later we grew to be 8,000-strong with 70,000 Games Makers and 100,000 contractors on top.
The sheer scale and scope of the operation was enormous as we approached the Opening Ceremony. It was extraordinary how the Main Operations Centre worked, all the satellite teams and how everything flowed in and out and decisions were made. The speed and volume of incidents and decisions were astonishing. It went well due to the extent of planning – there were huge detailed plans for everything, various iterations, simulations, and so on. Then the plans were tested to within an inch of their lives before being finalized and delivered. And then we did it all over again for the Paralympics.
There was huge pressure and stress on all of us at so many points, but it was made bearable by the achievements. LOCOG tended to attract the best people from each expert sector, so whether you were dealing with transport experts, ceremony producers, the sustainability team or the ODA - they were excellent and sparky people. Discussions were – always – lively.
And what about from the public affairs side?
Having public affairs right at the centre of it all was crucial – we were sat outside Seb Coe and Paul Deighton’s offices for very good reason, and next to the press team – this was crucial as we often faced the same issue at the same time.
Before the Games, we had one priority - to ensure cross-party support. The reason is 2-fold – 1) because the Games are 7-years from bid to delivery, so there’s often a change of Government at UK and Host City level; and 2) if the cross-party consensus broke down, popular support would soon follow.
There were bumps, not least in the form of G4S. But we kept it together – thanks to Hugh Robertson, Tessa Jowell and Don Foster – but also Jeremy Hunt and Ming Campbell. Just as important was London, and the transition from Ken to Boris. There were some great people within the civil service, GLA and MPs/Peers offices too.
Public Affairs at Games-time changed into running a high-profile domestic dignitary programme, as well as broader comms co-ordination alongside the Met Police, TfL and the regions. We recruited 23 volunteer Games Makers from the Public Affairs world to help us, and we needed every single one of them – many went the extra mile, and on the evening shifts at the Protocol Co-ordination Centre we were often grateful for the late running of the tubes.
Which campaign/issue are you most proud to have been involved in?
I think the single issue I’m proudest of at LOCOG was helping resolve a ticketing issue for disabled people. We had an excellent programme in place put together by talking to different communities within the disabled community, with tailored needs for each one. But later on, a politician on the London Assembly – Dee Doocey – was campaigning hard that this was not good enough. We realized that we could do better, and so got all the key people into a room. Late in the day, we created a ticketing programme called TicketCare just for that specific group – we costed it, funded it and delivered it. Knowing this happened is a source of personal pride, and hearing about their experience afterwards was just magical.
Looking at your career, you worked for over 10 years promoting Britain, London and the Olympic Games: what was it like to work as a public affairs professional within the leisure, sport and tourism sector?
I loved working in tourism as your job involves doing everything you can to make the case for your home country and home city. Some areas of policy work can be dry, but tourism always had an element of pride and fun about it – and it’s a significant part of the economy too.
Sport, meanwhile, is actually a difficult area for public affairs. It’s often a personal passion or hobby, and bringing that into your professional life can then blur the lines. So I was glad to come into London 2012 initially from the tourism side.
London 2012 made sport’s profile stratospheric in the public affairs world. Every Minister had some connection to the Games. The PM and Mayor of London had key responsibilities, and sought all sorts of opportunities too. Every civil servant was trying to find a way to associate their Minister with the Games. Every MP/Peer had a view or a request. Charities and campaigns wanted to use the Games for their own ends. Companies wanted to make money, and were frustrated by the law which protected sponsors rights. And then when the Games took place, dignitary management was intense from Her Majesty right through to Host Borough MPs and Councillors. Sport would never have this level of buy-in and challenge, and I have no experience of sport public affairs before or afterwards.
What do you enjoy about working in public affairs?
I love the three phases of public affairs - the clash of ideas at first; the winners and losers (in policy-making terms or elections); and then the art of getting things done - keeping a project on-track until it’s delivered.
What's your prediction for the next General Election result?
With a situation as fluid as it looks, there’s a chance that neither of the two largest parties get a majority on their own. So for public affairs people, not only should we engage with the Lib Dems but anyone likely to get a seat.
|Which politician, past or present, would you like to be stuck in a lift with? What issues would you raise?||
I’d apologise for a previous incident walking out of a lift at No.10. I was glibly finishing off a conversation with a pretty loud “Don’t blame me for this - blame the Prime Minister!” just as I turned around and faced him. His aide snootily sniffed “And thus he appears”. Humiliation was complete.
|LinkedIN or Twitter?|
|Tweet your career-to-date in 140 characters or less||Former @London2012 and @Number10gov staffer, now a small business advocate. Cross-party all the way.|
|What’s your Media diet?||Twitter. Feedly. The Times. Occasional look at the Economist. Sky News and BBC Parliament as background default at home (which makes me very unpopular).|
|Favourite Film||Airplane! Love meeting fellow fans and quoting it for hours.|
|Guilty pleasure||Geordie Shore and Made in Chelsea. Late night telly for when you can’t sleep. Well, that’s my excuse.|