LONDON — The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) has rejected media claims that public affairs firm Luther Pendragon was involved in ongoing alleged cronyism in the handing out of UK government contracts.

The agency was the subject of a Sunday Times report this week that pointed to the personal friendship between health secretary Matt Hancock and Gina Coladangelo, a Luther Pendragon “director and major shareholder” who was appointed to the board of the Department of Health and Social Care in a paid role in September and had previously been an unpaid, undeclared advisor around the Government’s Covid response.

Luther Pendragon is a member of the PRCA and subject to its code of conduct. The association – which earlier this month launched an investigation into Portland after similar questions around the conduct of its chairman and a consultant – looked at the newspaper's claims and found them to be “highly misleading” in respect of Luther Pendragon’s involvement.

In a joint statement, Public Affairs Board chair and Chelgate CEO Liam Herbert (pictured) and director general Francis Ingham said: “We can confirm that as Ms Coladangelo has had no professional connection with Luther Pendragon for some years, there is no possibility that her actions have led Luther Pendragon to be in breach of the PRCA Public Affairs Code or Professional Charter. Luther Pendragon is a member in good standing with the PRCA.

“We also wish to put on record our concern that the Sunday Times article gives an entirely misleading impression. One which it could have avoided by doing appropriate due diligence, and asking Luther Pendragon for their response. The PRCA takes ethical standards extremely seriously. When our members fall short of them, we take action. But when they have done nothing wrong, we say so – and Luther Pendragon has done nothing wrong.”

A Luther Pendragon spokesperson told PRovoke Media that Coladangelo ceased to be an employee in 2014 and has no involvement in the day-to-day running of Luther Pendragon, and does not carry out any client work on behalf of the firm. However, she does retain a minor shareholding in the firm. 

In addition, Colangelo “receives no remuneration from Luther Pendragon, and has not done so since she ceased being an employee.” Luther Pendragon's Companies House entries – on which the Sunday Times based some of its story – have now “been updated and corrected to confirm that she resigned as a director in 2017.”

On the final point in the report that Coladangelo had a parliamentary pass – which is not allowed under the PRCA code of conduct – the agency said: “We had no knowledge she had a parliamentary pass, Luther Pendragon employees do not hold parliamentary passes, and we adhere to the PRCA code.”

The PRCA has also been involved this week in making a complaint to the House of Lords about the conduct of Tulchan managing partner Lord Andrew Feldman, although this has been rejected by the Standards Commissioner.

The Luther Pendragon, Portland and Tulchan cases are the latest in a series of stories concerning PR and public affairs practitioners who are friends or former colleagues of UK government ministers. Political communications agencies including Admiral AssociatesHanbury StrategyPublic First and Topham Guerin have also been the subject of recent media reports.