Public Affairs: PA shops eye up Lib Dems

Hires on hold as agency bosses consider bolstering Lib Dem links.

Many public affairs agency bosses have put their recruitment plans on hold as they consider whether a fresh injection of Liberal Democrat firepower is required.

A number of consultancies are poised to bolster their ranks with senior hires, it is understood. In many cases, they are looking to replace consultants - and former consultants - now standing as prospective parliamentary candidates in winnable seats.

But with the election too close to call, agency bosses have told recruitment firms that final decisions will only be taken once the state of play in Westminster becomes clear. 'They have the CVs, they've done the interviews, but there's no point hiring now,' said one headhunter. 'They have basically said they won't appoint until they know whether the Tories have a majority or not.'

The market value of Lib Dem lobbyists would soar in the event of a hung parliament. One agency boss said: 'Clients are now seriously thinking about a hung parliament and a lot of us are now looking at our Lib Dem line-up and wondering if we have got enough to cover it.'

At present, there is thought to be a shortage of well-connected Lib Dems in the world of public affairs consultancy. The most plugged-in Lib Dem operators on the agency side are PLMR associate director Olly Grender, Hanover director James Gurling and Bell Pottinger Public Affairs director Neil Stockley. Other agency lobbyists with notable Lib Dem credentials are Burson-Marsteller UK chairman Gavin Grant, Insight Public Affairs account director Olly Kendall and Lansons' head of public affairs Ben Abbotts, who is currently assisting at party HQ.

Bell Pottinger Public Affairs chairman Peter Bingle said: 'These are challenging days for the public affairs industry. Having spent two years preparing our clients for a Tory government, the future is no longer quite so certain. There are very few top-rate Tory and Liberal Democrat specialists.

'By this, I don't mean people who go to the occasional local party meeting. I mean senior people who know their party's leadership and advisers, and understand their party's ethos and machinery.'

The Lib Dems' campaign is being overseen by director of general election comms Jonny Oates, a former Bell Pottinger consultant. The media intelligence unit is being run by three full-time PROs: Madeleine Hallwood, Charlotte Barraclough and Mark Percy.

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