A former chief executive of Ofcom, the media regulator, is being drafted in by Uber to aid its appeal against a ban that could force it to pull out of London.
Sky News has learnt that Flint Global, a consulting firm jointly founded by Ed Richards, who ran Ofcom until 2014, is in discussions with Uber about undertaking advisory work for the ride-hailing app.
The emergence of Flint Global’s involvement comes a week after Uber formally lodged its legal appeal against Transport for London’s (TfL) ruling that the company was not a “fit and proper” holder of a private-hire licence in the capital.
Mr Richards set up Flint Global last year with Sir Simon Fraser, the former permanent secretary at the Foreign Office, and it promotes itself as helping “firms on the issues they encounter at the interface with government and regulators”.
Its work with Uber forms part of the transport company’s efforts to reposition itself as a responsible operator, despite opposition from licensed taxi drivers’ representatives and a number of other powerful lobbying groups.
Uber’s new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, travelled to London two weeks ago for talks with TfL, with both sides describing their discussion as “constructive”.
The first hearing in the appeal process, which is likely to stretch well into 2018, is scheduled to be held in December.
Last month, Sky News revealed that Uber had hired headhunters to recruit a heavyweight British business figure to chair its UK operations.
Plans for the appointment were drawn up prior to the confirmation that TfL would not renew Uber’s licence to operate in the capital, although the search has now become more urgent.
The ban on Uber has sparked a furious backlash from Londoners, with more than 700,000 people signing a petition to allow the company to keep operating despite its failure to report a string of criminal offences perpetrated by its drivers.
Sadiq Khan, the London Mayor who chairs the TfL board, has sought to defend the decision – arguing that Uber has not demonstrated that it can “play by the rules”.
Uber now has about 40,000 drivers in London?, and is used by about 3.5 million customers, but its rise has sparked the most significant backlash to date against a major champion of the “gig economy”.
Losing its ability to operate in London could threaten its ability to preserve its licences in other cities around the world, where it has also come under intense regulatory pressure.
In turn, that would affect Uber’s chances of attaining a premium valuation in a public flotation that Mr Khosrowshahi has indicated is likely within 18 months.
Since TfL’s decision to ban the company, a number of senior executives including Jo Bertram, Uber’s northern Europe chief, and European head of policy Christopher Burghardt have resigned.
Uber and Flint Global both declined to comment.