Met Police picks HMRC's comms chief to replace James Helm

Poli Stuart-Lacey, director of comms at HM Revenue & Customs, has been appointed as the next director of media and comms at the Metropolitan Police.

Poli Stuart-Lacey has spent her career to date in government comms
Poli Stuart-Lacey has spent her career to date in government comms

Poli Stuart-Lacey has spent her career to date working in comms across government departments. The move to the Met, effective from 1 November, will be her first job in policing comms.

James Helm, the Met's former director of comms, left in July after three years in post and is understood to be considering his next job move.

He was replaced in an interim capacity by his deputy comms director, Ruth Shulver, who will stay on as Stuart-Lacey's deputy.

Stuart-Lacey said: “Joining the Met is a privilege and I’m really excited to get started. I’m passionate about increasing trust and confidence in public-facing organisations, and using communication to improve and save lives.

“Where better than in an organisation wholly committed to the safety of Londoners and with a workforce who demonstrate that commitment day in and day out.”

Stuart-Lacey will play a “crucial role leading internal and external communications colleagues, as well as our campaigns team, as they work to keep London safe,” according to a statement from The Met.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said: “I am delighted that Poli is taking on such a key role in the Met. I want to offer Poli warm congratulations and best wishes for her new role. I look forward to working with her.”

Career path

Stuart-Lacey, who studied French and Italian at the University of Hull, has worked in central government comms for more than 20 years. Over the past decade she has held senior comms roles in Whitehall departments such as the Cabinet Office and Department for International Trade.

The move from government to policing comms comes after a four-year stint at HMRC. In an interview with PRWeek after she was appointed to the role, Stuart-Lacey said she was determined to rid the tax authority of its "unapproachable" image and communicate better with the public.

During her time at HMRC, Stuart-Lacey also led on comms for key COVID-19 support schemes, as well as the impact of Brexit.

Stuart-Lacey described her time at HMRC as “a humbling and amazing experience.” She added: “I’m immensely proud to have led a team who, quickly adapting to lockdown conditions, brilliantly communicated with millions of people and businesses about how to claim the money they were entitled to when they needed it most.”

Jim Harra, HMRC chief executive and first permanent secretary, paid tribute to Stuart-Lacey for having “transformed the communications operation at HMRC, most notably over the past 18 months, where she skilfully delivered our communications on the vital COVID-19 support schemes.”

He said: “Poli’s dedication to improving and simplifying how government bodies communicate with the public, while also improving how HMRC supported carers and people from traditionally disadvantaged groups, will be as much of an asset to the Metropolitan police as it was to HMRC.”

Challenges ahead

At the Met, Stuart-Lacey will manage a team of about 90 people across external and internal comms, including a 24/7 press office that handles 1,500 enquiries each month.

She is taking on the biggest job in policing comms, for the country’s largest force, at a difficult time in its history.

The Met has been embroiled in a series of rows in recent months.

Earlier this year it was heavily criticised for its response to a vigil held for Sarah Everard, the marketing executive murdered by a serving Met Police officer, when police clashed with some female protestors.

And in June, a major independent inquiry into the unsolved murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan in 1987 accused the force of “institutional corruption” and displaying "a lack of candour" in its attempts to preserve its public image.

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