Former No.10 comms director takes senior Guardian role

Amber de Botton will be chief communications officer at Guardian Media Group
Photo: Guardian Media Group

A former head of communications at No.10 has been named as chief of communications for Guardian Media Group.

Amber de Botton, a former journalist who was comms director at No.10 from November 2022 to September 2023, will join the Guardian’s executive committee and head up comms for GMG, which owns Guardian News & Media, the publisher of the Guardian and Observer newspapers in the UK, theguardian.com, Guardian US and Guardian Australia.

The move follows a more than two-decade career in news that included five years as deputy head of politics at Sky News; two years as political editor of Total Politics, a former title owned by CSW’s parent company; and five years at ITV News as head of politics and then head of UK News.

In her latter role, de Botton led teams covering the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the Partygate scandal, and oversaw investigations into care homes during Covid and social housing that led to changes in the law, GMG said in its announcement.

The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments noted that de Botton’s No.10 role has “some overlap” with her new appointment, including regular contact with journalists from many publications including the Guardian.

But the anti-corruption watchdog said the risk that the role could reasonably be seen as a reward for her decisions or actions in office is “low”.

“The Cabinet Office told the committee that whilst it is possible for a No.10 director of communications to favour one media outlet over another, there is no evidence she did,” the committee said in an advice letter on the appointment.

“Further, her contact with GMG as outlined above was limited to speaking to the Guardian about messaging coming from No.10 – not in relation to decisions on the operation of the GMG or its publications.”

De Botton had no contact with the corporate management of GMG while at No.10 and was not involved in any policy, regulatory or commercial decisions specific to GMG or its competitors.

While there is a risk de Botton “may possess information which may be of interest to any employer in media and communications”, this risk is mitigated by the fact that her access to information was “for the most part about external communications, meaning the vast majority of information she had access to was about information ready to be placed in the public domain at the time or in the relatively near future”, Acoba said.

It added that this risk is further mitigated by the fact that the prime minister is ultimately responsible for all government decisions, with media policy and regulation the responsibility of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport; and that de Botton worked on communications at No.10, not policy or operational decisions.

Acoba did not impose any additional restrictions on de Botton’s appointment, other than the standard rules that require former civil servants to refrain from: lobbying government or contacting government bodies on behalf of their employer for two years after leaving office; drawing on any privileged information she gained while working in government; providing advice to their employer on bids or contracts with the government for two years after leaving office.

Announcing the appointment, Guardian editor in chief Katharine Viner said de Botton "brings rich experience and deep understanding of strategic communications and the media to support our mission to become more digital, produce more world-class journalism and engage more readers than ever before".

De Botton said she has "long-admired the Guardian’s agenda-setting journalism", adding: "The group has a powerful role internationally in the future of news media. I am excited to have the opportunity to promote stories that change lives, laws and legacies.”

Acoba also gave advice on two consulting roles de Botton has taken up in recent months, at Bridgepoint Advisers, a subsidiary of asset-fund management group BridgePoint Group; and the UK Governance Project, a commission whose members include former ministers and officials that makes recommendations to improve governance within the UK’s central institutions of government. Earlier this year, the project recommended that legislation be updated to prevent ministers from directing civil servants to flout the civil service code.

In both cases, the committee said the appointments do not raise “any particular proprietary concerns under the government’s rules”.

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