Biggest public sector hires – and shock departures in 2021

PRWeek reviews some of the most significant appointments in public sector comms over the past year, as well as the departures of senior comms chiefs.

Clockwise, from top left: Luke Robinson, Simon Baugh, Poli Stuart-Lacey, Priya Brahmbhatt-Patel
Clockwise, from top left: Luke Robinson, Simon Baugh, Poli Stuart-Lacey, Priya Brahmbhatt-Patel

This year brought major changes to the leadership of comms teams across government, the NHS and the Metropolitan Police.

Simon Baugh, chief executive, Government Communications Service

In what was a shock to some, Simon Baugh beat his former boss Alex Aiken to the new position at the top of GCS. The former director of comms for the Home Office took up his new role in September, with Aiken staying on as a director at GCS. Ironically, the new role was created as part of a major restructure under the Reshaping GCS programme launched by Aiken in 2020.

Prior to joining the Home Office in February 2020, Baugh had held a series of senior roles, including director of communications and engagement at the Department for Exiting the EU and director of strategy and communications at the Department for Transport.

Poli Stuart-Lacey, director of media and comms, Metropolitan Police

Poli Stuart-Lacey left her job as director of comms at HM Revenue & Customs to take charge of comms at the Metropolitan Police in November.

She has spent her career to date working in comms across government departments and 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.”

In her new role, Stuart-Lacey manages a team of about 90 people across external and internal comms, including a 24/7 press office that handles 1,500 enquiries each month.

James Lyons, director of comms for NHS England and Improvement (NHS E&I)

James Lyons landed the top comms job at NHS E&I
just four years after leaving a career in journalism and entering PR. He started out as head of media and public affairs at NHS England before joining NHS E&I as deputy director of comms in December 2019. He was promoted to the top job after Simon Enright departed for a new role as comms secretary to the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.

In his new role, Lyons leads NHS E&I’s national comms team and its ‘programme teams’ and works closely with seven regional comms teams.

Max Blain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson

Max Blain rose to prominence in April
, when he left his job as acting head of news at the Department of Health and Social Care to become the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson. His responsibilities include briefing Lobby correspondents each morning to deliver statements on the day’s news on behalf of the Prime Minister. The post-holder is a civil servant rather than a special adviser, which means that Blain is bound by the Civil Service’s codes on impartiality. The job had remained vacant for several months since James Slack, who held the role for nearly three years from 2017, became Downing Street’s director of comms in November 2020.

Jack Doyle, director of comms, No. 10

Not strictly a public sector hire, but one which has implications for it. Jack Doyle, who is currently in the spotlight over an alleged party in Downing Street last Christmas, left his job as associate editor of the Daily Mail’s politics team in early 2020 to join Downing Street as press secretary. Doyle rose to become deputy director of comms and was promoted to the top job after Slack’s departure.

In contrast to his predecessor, Doyle is holding the job as a special adviser rather than as a civil servant.

A senior Downing Street comms source said earlier this year: “He will be the PM’s ‘go-to’ comms person.” They added: “The bigger challenge for him now is the strategic negotiation of Whitehall… Will he be able to lift his head up and do horizon-scanning and then start to plan six to 12 months ahead, in terms of comms, and with an eye to the next election?”

Priya Brahmbhatt-Patel, director of comms, Ofgem

Priya Brahmbhatt-Patel moved to Ofgem in January
, leaving her role as director of comms at the then Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. She leads a comms team of more than 30 people, covering media relations, strategic comms and public affairs, as well as the regulator’s web and digital output.

Brahmbhatt-Patel reports to Ofgem chief executive Jonathan Brearley. She described the importance of “making sure consumers are protected, that they understand the changing energy landscape and are reassured that they will receive the light and heat they need every day, in an affordable and sustainable way”.

Luke Robinson, director of comms, Cancer Research UK

Luke Robinson was appointed as director of comms at the cancer charity in November and will start in February 2022.
The former BBC journalist has worked at the Ministry of Justice, as deputy director: strategic comms, since 2017.

In his new role, Robinson will oversee Cancer Research UK’s strategic communications and internal and external comms functions. He will report to Dr Ian Walker, executive director of policy, information and communications, who said: “Luke has a passion for delivering positive social outcomes for the organisations with which he’s associated, and I’m in no doubt that he will be a great asset to us as we look to the future and continue our mission to beat cancer.”


James Slack, deputy editor-in-chief, The Sun

James Slack left his role as No. 10’s director of comms in March just a few months after getting the job. He became deputy editor-in-chief of The Sun, working across the print and digital output of the paper and reporting to editor-in-chief Victoria Newton. Prior to being appointed No. 10’s director of communications in November 2020, he had previously served as an official spokesperson to Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Theresa May.

Commenting on his decision to leave government comms, Slack said: “Journalism is in my blood and working in a senior role at what is the most popular newspaper in Britain is an ambition I have held all of my life.”

Toby Orr, founding partner, Shearwater Global

Toby Orr announced his return to the private sector at the start of this year
, as a founding partner at strategic consulting firm Shearwater Global. He had just completed a four-year stint at the Department for International Trade, which he joined as director of comms in 2017 and went on to become the department’s first director of comms and marketing. Prior to working at the DIT, Orr spent more than a decade at Portland, where he rose to become a senior partner.

In his new role, Orr is leading Shearwater’s London office and said the agency aims to “help businesses navigate the new faultlines in global politics”.

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