DfT external affairs head takes public affairs transport role

Emily James has left the Department for Transport (DfT), where she was head of external affairs, to become head of public affairs at transport company Abellio UK.

Emily James has joined transport company Abellio UK
Emily James has joined transport company Abellio UK

James, who started in her new role this week, is working alongside Matthew Beard, head of media; both report to head of comms Allan Watt.

James told PRWeek that while working at DfT had been "a fantastic experience", she was "working across the entire portfolio of everything that we were pumping out as a comms team."

The new role at public transport operator Abellio, which runs several rail franchises as well as bus services in London and beyond, gives her the opportunity to "focus" on part of the transport sector that is "a really interesting space from a public affairs perspective".

Part of her remit is to "make sure Abellio’s voice is heard in the longer-term conversation around the future of transport, to make sure that we are engaging properly with ministers and officials at DfT, as well as metro mayors and people around the country about the future of transport in their area".

Pressing tasks

One of her first priorities will be responding to the Williams Rail Review, which the government is expected to release in the coming weeks.

Abellio UK, part of the Dutch-owned Abellio Group, runs East Midlands Railway, West Midlands Trains, ScotRail, Merseyrail, and Greater Anglia.

"Because we have all these different franchises dotted around the country I want to get out and about and meet colleagues and make sure that I'm not just stuck in a london office all the time," James said.

In contrast to the DfT’s large comms structure, at Abellio she is part of a small team – currently five people in total. "It’s a refreshing change from the DfT, where I had a reasonably sized team and to be honest it took quite a lot of my time just managing my team rather than actually doing the day job," she remarked.

Track record

James has worked in parliament and public affairs since graduating from Oxford University in 2007 with a degree in politics, philosophy, and economics.

She spent three years as a parliamentary researcher, working for Labour MPs Dari Taylor and Alex Cunningham.

A stint as public affairs officer at the Howard League for Penal Reform followed.

James then went to the Football Association, where she spent four years as public affairs manager.

In 2017 she joined DfT as deputy head of external affairs, before being promoted to head of external affairs in 2018. 

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