Simon Benson was a special adviser to Smith while she was chief whip from May 2006 to June 2007. Before that, Benson was a special adviser to the previous chief whip Hilary Armstrong.
He takes the role of senior policy adviser in Fleishman-Hillard’s public affairs team.
Benson will provide ‘strategic policy and communications advice’ across the lobbying practice, according to head of public affairs Nick Williams. He added that there was ‘extensive competition to recruit the best advisers’.
Benson is the third political aide to join the agency this year. In January, the agency pounced for Sophie Pim, who had worked in Conservative leader David Cameron’s private office as operations manager, reporting directly to Cameron’s media strategist Steve Hilton. More recently, the agency further strengthened its links with the Conservatives by hiring Shaya Raymond as a consultant. He was previously a political researcher to shadow cabinet member Theresa May.
The hire of Benson will shore up the agency’s Labour links. As special adviser to both chief whips, Benson was based in Downing Street and responsible for liaising with the staff at Number 10.
Before working in the whips’ office, Benson worked as an aide to Bridget Prentice, now a junior minister at the Ministry of Justice, and Harriet Harman, now deputy leader of the Labour Party.
Meanwhile, Fleishman-Hillard has announced that the managing director of the firm’s Johannesburg public affairs office is being moved to London to oversee its UK lobbying practice.
Lucien Vallun takes the role of managing director, succeeding Kevin Bell, who has taken a broader remit as regional president for the UK, Africa and the Middle East. Vallun will continue to report to Bell.