November 28, 2023 - 10:00am

It’s boom time for the Tony Blair Institute. According to its latest accounts, the organisation created and run by the former prime minister to promote “global change” saw its turnover jump by 50% in 2022 — enough to generate a multimillion pound “surplus” for the second year running.

The Tony Blair Institute, or TBI as it is known to everyone who works there, describes itself as a “not-for-profit entity that provides expert advice to political leaders worldwide on strategy, policy and delivery, unlocking the power of technology across all three”. To some of those on the inside it is, in effect, a “McKinsey for world leaders”, a consultancy advising governments how to govern (often for a hefty fee). 

While there are arms of the TBI, including a think tank, it is this side of the organisation which has gone into overdrive following the appointment of former Justin Trudeau adviser and McKinsey veteran Mike McNair as the TBI’s Global Managing Director in April 2022.

The figures are contained in the not-for-profit’s accounts for the 2022 calendar year. They show turnover up from $81,286,000 in 2021 to $121,250,000 last year, a $40 million increase amounting to a 49% jump.

While turnover has risen, so too have the TBI’s overheads — with “group expenditure” growing by 56% and staff numbers up 53%. Despite the increase in expenditure, however, the Institute managed to maintain a “surplus” (rather than profit) of $16.8 million, slightly down from the $17 million the previous year. As such, the TBI paid $6.5 million in tax last year. 

Buried in the accounts included the figure of $448,000 paid in redundancy costs during the year — evidence, perhaps, of the extent to which the organisation has restructured itself over the past year, shifting its focus towards tech-heavy government consultancy under the leadership of McNair.

Aside from McNair the other three directors who sit on the board with Blair all have connections to American tech giants: the public relations executive David-John Collins, formerly of Google; Awo Ablo, who sits on Oracle’s board of directors; Chris Yiu, who is a senior figure at Meta, the company that owns Facebook. Two months ago, the Institute also hired former Finnish PM Sanna Marin, who is joining as a “strategic counsellor”.

While Blair himself does not take a salary from the Institute, the other four directors of the TBI were paid a total of $1,114,000 last year — up from $861,000 the year before. The highest paid director earned $662,000, a jump of more than $150,000 from the $504,000 that was the highest salary the year before. The highest paid director also received $11,000 in pension contributions.

As I detailed in my investigation into the TBI published earlier this year, the TBI receives much of its income in donations from plutocratic philanthropists in California, most notably Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Bill Gates, but also the Anne Wojcicki Foundation, set up by Anne Wojcicki, the American “genomics” entrepreneur who married the Google co-founder Sergey Brin in 2007.

While Blair is fixated on the possibilities of tech to transform health and governance, it is these tie-ups with billionaire businessmen and women which have raised eyebrows among many who believe they blur the lines between philanthropy, influence, power and commercial opportunity in ways that not everyone who has worked for the TBI has felt comfortable.

Still, this is now the centre of what the TBI does, offering “tech-related support” to governments throughout the world — sometimes for profit, sometimes not. As the TBI grows ever more influential in world affairs, it will surely be these partnerships with American tech giants which come under ever greater scrutiny.

Tom McTague is UnHerd’s Political Editor. He is the author of Betting The House: The Inside Story of the 2017 Election.