Revealed: Truss adviser worked at energy lobbying firm

Liz Truss’s new director of strategy helped run a firm that lobbied for one of the UK’s biggest energy suppliers, openDemocracy can reveal.

Martin Williams www.opendemocracy.net 

Iain Carter took unpaid leave as a partner at Hanbury Strategy to join her leadership campaign over the summer and has now been installed at the heart of Number 10.

But during his time at Hanbury Strategy, the public relations agency was paid to lobby senior political figures on behalf of the now-infamous Bulb Energy.

With 1.5 million customers, Bulb was considered too big to fail – until it collapsed amid spiralling energy prices and went into administration in November 2021. It was bailed out by the government in a move that could cost taxpayers £4bn by next spring.

Downing Street refused to provide a statement on Carter’s appointment, but a spokesperson today claimed the Number 10 chief had not personally lobbied for Bulb Energy during his time as a partner at Hanbury.

In his biography on Hanbury’s official website, however, Carter states that he is “involved in the wider leadership of the agency” and “oversee[s] the work we do for a significant portfolio of clients”.

Official documents show the firm began work to sign up Bulb Energy as a client in 2017, promising to boost its public profile and provide “strategic communications advice”. This involved engaging with ministers or senior government officials at various points between 2018 and summer 2021.

Carter joined the lobbying firm in April last year as a director, at a time when the Bulb lobbying was ongoing. Following his promotion to partner in November, he was praised for having “help[ed] investors navigate an increasingly tricky political backdrop”.

Links to government

Carter’s move from Hanbury Strategy to Number 10 is the latest chapter in the company’s cosy relationship with the Conservative Party. Before joining the lobbying agency, Carter himself had previously worked as the Tories’ director of research.

Hanbury was founded in 2016 by Ameet Gill, who spent years in Downing Street as David Cameron’s director of strategy. When Cameron quit, following the Brexit referendum, he awarded Gill with an OBE.

But Gill received a slap on the wrist for setting up Hanbury Strategy just months after leaving Number 10 without the permission of the government’s sleaze watchdog. The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments said there was “concern” that private clients had already been announced before the watchdog “had the opportunity to offer its advice”.

Another director at Hanbury, Paul Stephenson, served as director of communications for the Vote Leave campaign and also worked as an adviser to Conservative ministers.

The lobbying firm is the subject of ongoing legal action by the Good Law Project, after it was awarded £580,000 worth of COVID contracts without a competitive tender.

In total, records now show that Hanbury has won at least £1.2m of government contracts for work, including opinion polling surrounding the pandemic.

It has previously defended the work, which was agreed upon at “extremely short notice”, saying it “contributed to what was a hugely successful public health communications campaign which undoubtedly prevented many deaths”.

The firm also has close ties to the Labour Party, with several staffers who have worked for both. They include Chris Ward, who served as Keir Starmer’s former deputy chief of staff and is now a director at Hanbury. Meanwhile, Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, recently hired one of Hanbury’s associate directors.

After Bulb Energy was bailed out by taxpayers, the government agreed to pay millions of pounds in bonuses to staff at the energy supplier.

Before Carter joined Hanbury, Bulb had already come under fire for breaching consumer rules. In 2020, it agreed to pay out £1.76m (some of it classed as ‘goodwill’ payments) after regulators found it had overcharged some customers.

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