PROFILE: Jenny Grey, MD of comms and public reporting, Audit Commission

Jenny Grey is in the middle of her busiest week of the year. The Audit Commission has just published its annual council assessments and is now braced for the inevitable howls of protest from a handful of disgruntled local authorities.

It is always a testing time for the local services watchdog, but Grey is well equipped to handle the backlash - despite her relative youth (she is 35).

‘She has always carried an authority that you wouldn't expect for someone of her age and gender,' says Department of Health director of comms Matt Tee, a former employer. ‘For example, when she was at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital Trust she was in her early 20s advising doctors, most of whom were men and very aware of their seniority - and they took her advice.'

Tee says it is Grey's ability to balance the finesse of a heavyweight corporate practitioner with the soft-skills of a consumer PRO that has catapulted her into such a senior position at a relatively young age.

But Grey insists there is no secret formula to her success. Neither has she carefully mapped out her career path.

‘People ­often assume I've had a masterplan, but I haven't - I just like dealing with high-profile public issues,' she shrugs.

Grey's diminutive physical stature is emphasised by her expansive office overlooking the Thames. She comes across as approachable and friendly, but also exudes a sense of seriousness. Refreshingly, she holds few airs and graces and gives the impression that she only speaks from the heart.

Like many in the profession, Grey says she ‘fell into PR'. Her teenage dreams revolved around a career in the creative arts, drama or theatre production - although she modestly insists that ‘it would have been behind the scenes'.

Her childhood love of Enid Blyton's books blossomed into a first-class degree in English literature from Durham University. With her uncle a former director-general of Invest Hong Kong and her aunt an ex-political editor of the South China Morning Post, Grey planned to live in the former British colony after graduating. But after her mother fell ill, she opted to ­remain in the UK, and eventually entered healthcare PR - having spent ‘so much time in hospitals'.

Born in west London, she now lives in leafy Hampshire with her husband and 18-month-old son Henry - who beams out from a photograph on a shelf in the office.

Although Grey's priority is spending as much time as possible with her young family, she insists she remains a sociable animal at heart.

‘I would like to think that my friends think I am a laugh,' she says. ‘I know they would describe me as hard-working because of the social engagements I have had to cancel due to my work and study over the years.'

Nowadays, aside from family commitments, her spare time is devoted to Japanese literature and the occasional run ‘to clear the head'.

Turning her thoughts to the immediate challenges of her role, Grey says she wants to make the public more aware of local authority inspections. ‘We want future assessment schemes to be more meaningful to people and their communities,' she explains.

Grey says she does not know exactly what format the future assessments will take, but she laughs as she pledges to review their name - a tacit admission that Comprehensive Area Assessments may be a somewhat clunky ­moniker for comms purposes.

She also intends to give local service assessments a human angle: ‘The previous system has been helpful in shifting the power back to local government, and the new system is the best way forward for an improved local government.'

Her plans for the Audit Commission revolve around making it more accessible, using less technical language, and focusing on user needs rather than the presentation of information.

In short, the diminutive Grey is on a mission to make the Audit Commission more palatable for the masses.

CV - JENNY GREY

2006
MD of comms and public reporting, Audit Commission

2003
Director of strategy and communications, National Patient Safety Agency

2001
UK director of corporate and external affairs, Cancer Research

2001
Communications director, Imperial Cancer Research Fund

1999
Director of comms, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital Trust

1995
PRO, PR manager and deputy head of PR, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital Trust

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