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
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
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
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
Marketing services head, Welsh Development Agency
Media relations head, ITN
Corporate affairs director, South Wales Electricity
Special adviser to Secretary of State for Wales
Director, Welsh Context