- Using Brunswick as conduit to Britain’s biggest firms likely to be controversial
- Labour’s intimate relationship is bound to raise questions of conflicts of interest
- Role as ‘partners’ with Labour reaches beyond normal advisory relationship
Charm offensive: Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer is resorting to using City spin doctors at top PR firm Brunswick to help the Labour party build relationships with business.
In a letter dispatched to the chief executives of several key FTSE 100 firms – including Barclays, Rolls-Royce and Aviva – seen by The Mail on Sunday, the Labour leader said: ‘We are partnering with Brunswick Group on this work and with Sir Alan Parker, the founder and chair.’
The first meeting with the business titans has been scheduled for the evening of December 12 at Brunswick’s offices at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in central London.
Starmer has told the companies that Sir Alan has been asked to work closely ‘with your teams in advance’.
In a letter signed by him personally, the Labour leader says he wants to focus on skills and training in the workforce to drive ‘growth, the transition to net zero and capture the benefit of new technologies’.
Disclosure of Starmer’s decision to use Brunswick as a conduit to some of Britain’s biggest firms is likely to be controversial. As one of London’s leading communications agencies, with global revenues of £391 million in 2022, Labour’s intimate relationship is bound to raise questions of conflicts of interest.
The firm’s role as ‘partners’ with Labour reaches beyond what might be considered a normal advisory role. FTSE companies invited to take part in the discussions at Brunswick may believe that they have little choice but to use the communications group as advisers if they are to maintain good relations with a prospective Labour Government.
It could also present a conflict of interest with Brunswick’s clients – which have included a number of FTSE firms.
Under Parker’s leadership Brunswick has grown from a small City firm into a global communications colossus. It describes itself as ‘the world’s leading critical issues firm’.
Following the meeting next month, Starmer says he will be following up with an additional conversation with the same group of bosses in the New Year. He expresses the hope that the CEOs contacted ‘can join me’.
Brunswick offers services on everything from shareholder activism, to social investing and political and public policy. The most recent published accounts at Companies House show the US is now its biggest market with revenues of £197 million followed by the UK with £114 million.
The choice of Parker as Labour’s formal conduit to top boardrooms is certain to raise questions. A former head of British Rail, Parker’s father, the late Sir Peter Parker, had close connections to an earlier generation of Labour leaders.
In recent times, his son has enjoyed a close relationship with former Prime Minister and now Foreign Secretary David Cameron. After his resignation as PM in 2016, Cameron moved into the PR chief’s £17 million, seven-bedroom townhouse in West London as his guest.
Labour has so far sought to engage with commerce through Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves. She plans to speed up planning decisions for housing and infrastructure and to deploy pension funds in the party’s growth agenda. Reeves claims the agenda has the support of businesses with which she has engaged.
Starmer, who lacks direct economic and business experience, is choosing his own route to build links with enterprise.
In his letter he says he wants to work with a small group of bosses ‘to refine my thinking on economic growth’. He says ensuring that Britain achieves higher levels of output ‘underpins all of my missions for government’.
The decision to work so closely with Parker may not sit easily with Labour’s commitment, if in government, to axe the army of consultants currently used in Whitehall. Last month Reeves pledged ‘tough new rules’ requiring departments to demonstrate planned consultancy spend represented value for money. She vowed to slash spending by 50 per cent.
The partnership with Parker is likely to be pro bono, but it is hard to think that Brunswick will not eventually benefit from government advisory contracts. In turn the firms can expect a closer bond with Downing Street and Whitehall.