Profile: Huw Roberts, Welsh Context - Putting Wales into context/Huw Roberts puts his political knowhow to good use at Welsh Context

Huw Roberts missed the start of what should have been the biggest day of his PR career because he was on holiday. On that fateful Tuesday last October, the news broke that his boss, former Welsh Secretary Ron Davies, had resigned because of an ’incident’ on Clapham Common.

Huw Roberts missed the start of what should have been the biggest

day of his PR career because he was on holiday. On that fateful Tuesday

last October, the news broke that his boss, former Welsh Secretary Ron

Davies, had resigned because of an ’incident’ on Clapham Common.



As Davies’ most senior special adviser, Roberts raced back to London to

fight the media fire. He argues that all the crisis PR experience in the

world would not have given him enough ammunition to win the battle.



’When Ron asked whether he should issue a press release. I told him it

would be like the difference between holding a cup under the Niagara

Falls,’ he says sanguinely.



While Davies retired into the political wilderness, Roberts set about

securing a new job as head of Cardiff-based public affairs consultancy,

Welsh Context, the sister agency to London-based Political Context. The

agency’s chairman, Leighton Andrews, helped co-ordinate the ’Yes’

campaign in the run-up to the referendum on Welsh devolution, which is

how he met Roberts.



So, from having helped Davies devise a Welsh assembly which Roberts says

will be ’more consultative and more inclusive’ than its Westminster big

sister, Roberts is now about to ensure that promise is kept by providing

the link between the assembly and businesses. ’Restoring Wales’ economic

power is critical and we won’t do it without business as partners,’ he

says with conviction and just a hint of New Labour jargon.



Roberts is well equipped for his new job, combining as it does his

passion for Wales, his long-standing support for the Labour Party and

his extensive PR and public affairs experience in both the public and

the private sector.



On paper, 52-year-old Roberts looks like a textbook member of the

so-called ’Taffia’ - Wales’ political and social network. Not only has

he worked in-house at two of the principality’s biggest name employers,

the Welsh Development Agency and South Wales Electricity, but, through

his Wales Labour party connections, he knows those who pull the

political punches there.



Brought up in the Labour bedrock of the Welsh valleys, Roberts even went

to school with Kim Howells, now competition and consumer affairs

minister.



The two were both involved in student politics in the 1960s when at

college in London.



But he shies from being tarnished with the Taffia brush. ’I know a lot

of people in Wales, because Wales is a small country. But you wouldn’t

call a boy from the southern valleys part of the establishment,’ he

laughs.



After the Clapham Common affair, Roberts lists professional challenges

numbers two and three as coming when he handled PR in-house at ITN and

later, South Wales Electricity.



While at ITN, Roberts worked on the team which lobbied the then

Conservative Government to ensure the 1990 Broadcasting Act guaranteed

ITN’s position as sole news provider for the ITV companies.



As South Wales Electricity’s corporate affairs director, he was faced

with the massive task of communicating the firm’s privatisation to staff

and the outside world. ’There’s a natural Welsh antipathy to

privatisation and it was very challenging to change perceptions,’ he

recalls.



Roberts admits to enjoying seeing his labour bear fruit. Those who know

him add that he is a man driven by passion and a sense of fun. ’He’s a

typically loquacious Welshman,’ says GICS head Mike Granatt, who worked

with Roberts at the Department of Energy in the 1980s.



Granatt recalls a Tory minister asking Roberts how best to raise his

profile overnight. Roberts’ jokey response was to suggest he stand on

Westminster Bridge with his trousers down. Little did he know one of his

ministers would eventually be accused of doing something uncannily

similar.



HIGHLIGHTS

1986

Marketing services head, Welsh Development Agency

1987

Media relations head, ITN

1992

Corporate affairs director, South Wales Electricity

1997

Special adviser to Secretary of State for Wales

1999

Director, Welsh Context



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