Gordon Brown’s government has chosen Tim Allan, an ex-New Labour spin doctor, to head up the campaign to cut jobs at the Remploy company that employs disabled workers.
Allan’s PR company has a reputation for hostility to union organisation. The move has been condemned by the GMB union and by workers fighting to save jobs in Remploy factories.
Allan was deputy press secretary to Tony Blair from 1994 to 1998. He left the government in order to become director of corporate communications for Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB.
In 2001 he set up Portland PR, with BSkyB as his client. The Financial Times commented at the time that Allan “will give guidance on government affairs, where his political expertise and inside knowledge of Whitehall will prove invaluable to future clients”.
Portland PR was engaged by Asda Wal-Mart to produce literature in two anti-union campaigns at two distribution depots in Washington, Tyne and Wear.
Portland PR’s campaign in 2004 and 2005 led to Asda being penalised by an employment tribunal to the tune of £850,000 for attempting to induce workers to give up collective bargaining.
Asda offered a 10 percent pay rise to the workers at ADC Washington on condition that they give up collective bargaining rights at the depot.
Union members rejected the offer and Asda then offered a pay rise of 3.5 percent instead.
Asda was ordered to pay £2,500 in compensation to each of the 340 GMB members that Portland PR tried to induce to give up their rights.
The employment tribunal judgement said of the Portland PR campaign literature, “One cannot describe this other than as very hostile to trade unions and highly disparaging of the process of collective bargaining.”
Portland PR charged the supermarket £50,000, including a £14,000 “success fee” for devising the campaign strategy, drafting and producing campaign materials and organising a workplace event.
Last year a leaked strategy document titled “Project proposals and tools to communicate public affairs messages” revealed how Portland PR works.
It suggests, for example, that the then culture secretary Tessa Jowell might be a joint host of a seminar on “maximising creative industry benefit of television in the UK, followed by Westminster/Whitehall reception”.
The document proposed lunches hosted by Rupert Murdoch.
The plan was to focus “on the interplay between Sky and the government”. The guest list reads: Gordon Brown, David Miliband, Ruth Kelly, Alan Johnson, Alistair Darling, David Cameron and George Osborne.
Separately, Allan suggests a couple of “Rising Star” dinners, listing 15 up and coming MPs from each of the Labour and Tory parties, and four senior political advisers from each camp.
It is not clear which – if any – of Allan’s proposals Sky took up.
David Blunkett and Alan Milburn admit in the Commons register of interests to receiving between £5,000 and £10,000 for speeches at events organised by Portland.
The GMB are demanding to know why Allan’s firm has been employed by Remploy.
GMB general secretary Paul Kenny has written to the government asking, “I would be grateful if you would call for a full investigation into why Portland PR were employed by Remploy, what they have been doing, how much they have been paid, and who they report to.”
Some 40 Remploy workers demonstrated in Leatherhead in Surrey last weekend against plans to close the factory where they work. The factory, which recycles electrical goods, is among 43 of the company’s plants scheduled for closure.
Unions are now planning a series of protests outside the threatened factories ahead of a demonstration at the Labour Party’s annual conference next month. For a list, go to » www.gmb.org.uk/remploy