Revolving door revolves again: Vickie Sheriff (used to work at 10 Downing Street) to be Heathrow head of comms

There have for a long time been concerns about the “revolving door”, by which people switch between working high up in the aviation industry, and working high up in Government. The concern is that they may bring too much influence, from their earlier employer. Now it is announced that Vickie Sheriff it to become head of communications for Heathrow airport. Earlier she had worked for the Prime Minister, in 2013, with a dual role as official deputy spokesperson for the Prime Minister and head of news at Number 10. She went to the DfT and then Diageo in 2014.  Heathrow’s director of PR, Simon Baugh, left earlier this year to work at the Department for Transport to take the role of head of communications. This is the job that was previously held by Vickie Sheriff. (Simon Baugh was not actually meant to be advising ministers on the new runway issue till 1st September, when he had been at the DfT for 6 months).  Heathrow also appointed a new consumer PR agency in the summer. There have been several other high profile examples of the “revolving door” in the past, including Tom Kelly in 2009, who had worked for Tony Blair and then went to BAA as head of comms.

Former Number 10 head of news Vickie Sheriff becomes Heathrow comms chief

22.9.2015 (PR Week)

Vickie Sheriff has taken up the role of director of communications at Heathrow Airport, leaving her role at drinks giant Diageo.

Sheriff, who is overseeing media, strategy and PR, and is reporting to corporate affairs director Clare Harbord, said: “It’s a really exciting time to join the team at Heathrow. We have an important agenda to make Heathrow the best passenger airport service in the world as well as be good neighbours to the communities around us.

“Heathrow is a national asset, a major export hub and employer. So there’s lots to do and I’m rolling my sleeves up with the team already.”

In June last year she was appointed by Diageo as global comms director – a role she took up in September.

Prior to Diageo she had held a number of jobs in central government comms.

In 2013, she moved from her dual role as official deputy spokeperson for the Prime Minister and head of news at Number 10 to take up the top comms job at the Department for Transport. Previous to this she had worked at the Ministry of Justice.

Sheriff joins the organisation two months after the Airports Commission recommended a third runway be built at what is one the world’s busiest airports by passenger numbers. Heathrow faced – and in spite of the recommendations – continues to face stiff opposition to the plan with Gatwick Airport also wanting to expand.

The airport lost its director of PR Simon Baugh earlier this year after he headed to the Department for Transport to take the role previously held by Sheriff. Heathrow also appointed a new consumer PR agency in the summer.

Sheriff is also a judge for the PRWeek Awards 2015.



DfT hires Heathrow PR director Simon Baugh – to start briefing ministers etc on runways after 30th September

Simon Baugh, who is currently director of PR at Heathrow Airport, is moving to the DfT to take up the role of group director of comms. He takes up the new job on 30th March.  Baugh said: “I can’t think of a more exciting time to be joining the team or to be promoting the role that transport plays in driving UK economic growth.” He has been overseeing PR at Heathrow, which included the launch in late 2013 of Back Heathrow, a ‘grassroots’ (astoturfing – deeply controversial) campaign.  On 20th February Zac Goldsmith put a written question in Parliament: “To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what recruitment process was used when hiring Simon Baugh, Group Director of Communications for his Department; and what role Mr Baugh will have in his Department after the Airports Commission has made its recommendation on airport expansion in the South East.”   Reply by DfT spokesperson:  “As Mr Baugh was previously employed by Heathrow Airport Ltd, he will not be involved in advising Ministers on issues relating to the work of the Airports Commission for the 6 months following his appointment, which starts on 30 March 2015.” ie. the Commission may report at the end of June, and Simon Baugh can start briefing etc by 30th September.

See also

London City Airport gets new PR manager – fresh from 10 months as press officer at the DfT

London City Airport has strengthened its comms team with the appointment of the Department for Transport’s Andrew Scott as PR Manager, “as the airport develops plans for expansion and prepares to mark its 30th anniversary in 2017.” Andrew Scott joins City Airport’s four-strong comms team and will be responsible for campaigns “which promote the airport’s time saving and convenience proposition to customers.” His role will also include oversight of the UK and 6 key European markets, which are supported by PR agency Grayling. Scott was a press officer at the DfT for 9 -10 months since July 2015, before that a media officer at the Museum of London, and before that at WPP (a huge advertising and PR company). Barclaycard’s Kimberley Hayden has also joined City Airport’s comms team as internal comms executive, and will be “responsible for employee engagement, including production of Airport Life magazine, 500 free copies of which are circulated internally each month.” The head of comms has been Charlotte Beeching, since December 2014. The airport now has new owners – Canadian pension funds – and is hoping to be allowed expansion “which would enable up to 6.5 million passengers by 2025.”

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Diageo appoints Vickie Sheriff as global communications director

Diageo has announced the appointment of Vickie Sheriff, currently director of group communications at the department for transport for the UK Government, to its team.

Joining as global communications director, Sheriff will look to join together the drink company’s employee engagement and external communications teams.

Of her appointment, she said: “I am thrilled to be joining Diageo in a great new role. After a long career enjoying communications in government, I’m looking forward to bringing my skills and experience to the commercial sector. Diageo is a company that people want to work for and I am excited to be leading a team to help shape Diageo’s global communications to support its ambition.”

Sheriff’s former roles include being the UK prime minister’s deputy official spokesman and head of news for both the Ministry of Justice and the Department for International Development.

Her new position will see Sheriff report into Charlotte Lambkin, global corporate relations director, who said: “I am really pleased that Vickie has chosen to join our team at Diageo. She has great experience in running and developing large teams covering a wide range of disciplines, managing complex and fast moving issues and positioning senior individuals and organisations.”

Sheriff will join Diageo on 1 September 2014.



Other examples of the “revolving door” between government and the aviation industry:

February 2008.  Plane Stupid wrote:

“Labour/industry revolving door: Trade minister Sir Digby Jones is the former
CBI boss who became chair of the new aviation industry lobby group, Flying Matters.
The group was recently formed to take on environmentalists over airport expansion.
Gordon Brown also appointed Joe Irvin, formerly a director of the aviation lobby
group Freedom to Fly, to become one of his inner circle of advisors too. Freedom
to Fly was the brainchild of Steve Hardwick – another of Labour’s key Millbank
apparatchiks – while the organisation was previously chaired by Labour peer Brenda
Dean and directed by Dan Hodges, the son of Glenda Jackson who was Labour’s first
aviation minister. Dan Hodge’s wife, Michelle De Leo, is the new director of Flying

“The chancellor, Alistair Darling, the bete noir of climate campaigners, is far
from a stranger to BAA either. In fact, he was the guest of honour who officially
launched a group called Future Heathrow, who are lobbying for a third runway and
a sixth terminal at the airport. Future Heathrow, is headed up by another Labour
peer, Lord Soley, who works out of a BAA office in West London. BAA’s new communications chief is former Downing Street spin doctor Tom Kelly.”  Link



Fury at airport lobby links to No 10

MPs suggest go-ahead for a third runway is down to influence of former Labour officials now working for BAA

By Toby Helm, Whitehall editor (Guardian)

Sunday 18 January 2009

Senior MPs are demanding a Commons investigation into evidence of a “revolving door” policy between Downing Street, Whitehall and airport operator BAA, following last week’s decision by ministers to approve a third runway at Heathrow. MPs believe that BAA and British Airways were able to crush the environment lobby thanks to an intricate network of contacts with the government and the Labour party.

Concerns over their influence have been heightened by the presence of Tom Kelly, formerly the official spokesman for Tony Blair when he was prime minister, who has taken charge of “all aspects of BAA’s communication activity” since being appointed as group director of corporate and public affairs for the company in late 2007, when the campaign for a third runway was in full swing. Kelly heads a network that plugs BAA directly into government and Labour, several of whose senior figures are involved in the pro-runway campaign. Julia Simpson, another former adviser to Blair, left Downing Street in 2007 for BA.

On the other side of the fence is Joe Irvin, former head of corporate affairs at BAA, who has switched to Number 10 to be a key adviser to Gordon Brown. Irvin was also involved with one of the main aviation lobby groups, Freedom to Fly, which was funded by BAA and BA – as was Stephen Hardwick, a former adviser to John Prescott and ex-head of public affairs at BAA. BAA also employs financial PR company Finsbury, which is headed by Roland Rudd, a close friend of business secretary Peter Mandelson, who was in favour of the third runway.

BA has fostered close links with government for years through PR firms Brunswick, headed by Gordon Brown’s friend Alan Parker, and Lexington Communications, run by Mike Craven, a former Labour press chief. Senior Labour figures, paid to help the runway lobby funded by BAA, include Lord Soley, a former chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, who has appeared in the media to promote the runway for Future Heathrow, one of the BAA-backed successors to Freedom to Fly.

The issue of Heathrow was tackled in a recent report on lobbying by the public administration select committee. After the inquiry, MPs concluded that lobbying needed to be open to public scrutiny. The report said: “There has also been widespread public concern that some areas of government policy have effectively been captured at an early stage by interest groups, usually within industry, and that public consultations have been unbalanced in the favour of these interests.” It named Heathrow as an example of this.

Labour MP John Grogan last night called for the government to implement the proposed new rules. He believed that cabinet ministers who had opposed the third runway – including climate change secretary Ed Miliband and environment secretary Hilary Benn – might have won the day if they had not been fighting the “intricate web” linking BAA, BA and Whitehall. Susan Kramer, a Liberal Democrat MP, said a Commons investigation was essential. “It is a matter of public interest and is imperative.”

BAA said: “It is entirely appropriate that BAA holds discussions with government, as we do with politicians of all parties, in the interest of Britain’s airports. As was clearly demonstrated with a decision last week, government and government alone makes the critical judgements that affect airport growth.”

• Hundreds of anti-runway activists yesterday staged a “flash mob” protest at Heathrow’s terminal five. Campaigners were ready to move into homes facing destruction in the village of Sipson and vowed that they would win “the political war”.


The aviation sector has close links with political decision makers which many players moving between roles through the controversialrevolving door‘. For example: Joe Irvin was advisor to John Prescott from 1996 and 2001 (Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions as well as Deputy Prime Minister) before working for various element of the aviation lobby and becoming head of corporate affairs at BAA in 2006 before he became ‘Special Advisor’ to Gordon Brown in 2007 when he became prime minister.[32][33] He was succeeded at BAA by Tom Kelly who took the title ‘group director of corporate and public affairs’; Kelly had previously been the official spokesman for Tony Blair when he was prime minister.[32]

Freedom to Fly was formed during the preparation phase of the “Future of Aviation white paper 2003” by BAA and others[34] It was ‘fronted’ by Joe Irvin, a former political adviser to John Prescott[35] who subsequently became Director of Public Affairs at BAA Limited[36] Their director, Dan Hodges, is the son ofGlenda Jackson, Labour MP and former Aviation Minister.[37] 



Sir Roy McNulty is now non-executive director of Gatwick airport, but he has been Chairman of NATS and Chairman of the CAA in the past.



The revolving door: how big business has colonised UK politics

The increasing number of ministers and senior civil servants recruited from the private sector to government ensures that policy favours big business

Our new report highlights the way business ideas have become entrenched in the UK political process.

The report warns against the ‘corporate colonisation’ of Government, citing a number of different ways through which figures from business have entered into Government, including:

  • Business leaders appointed to Ministerial office via the House of Lords, such as former HSBC CEO Lord Green and former Goldman Sachs banker and Chief Executive of the London Olympics Organising Committee, Lord Deighton
  • Private sector appointments to the civil service, with 30% of current senior civil servants recruited in this way
  • The extensive use of private sector consultants at a cost of around £800m according to the Public Accounts Committee
  • Non-executive ‘departmental boards’ of Government departments, chaired by leading industry figures, such as Lord Browne, former CEO of BP and Chair of the Cabinet Office, or Sam Laidlaw, outgoing CEO of Centrica (parent company of British Gas) and Chair of the Department for Transport.

The report also highlights the 1,000 business appointments taken up by outgoing Ministers and civil servants between 2000 and 2014 and their potential to use their knowledge of Government to exert undue influence on behalf of their new employers.

High Pay Centre director, Deborah Hargreaves said: It is useful for politicians and Government officials to be able to draw on experience of working in the private sector. At the same time, a balance has to be struck. Private companies exist to make money, first and foremost. They have different values to the public service ethic we expect of Ministers and civil servants.

The interests of big business and the interests of society are already too easily confused in public debate. They are not synonymous, but a Government dominated by former business leaders risks governing as if they are.

It is only natural that those with long professional careers working to maximise the profits of major corporations will favour policies that help big business  when in Government, even at the expense of employee welfare or the environment, for example.

The report