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151: New Government: new public affairs strategy?

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151: New Government: new public affairs strategy?
Leave your thoughts Stuart Thomson

By Stuart Thomson

The UK’s new Prime Minister, Theresa May, has wasted no time in pulling her new team together. With a raft of new Ministers and a new supporting team in place, Mrs May is looking to set out a new path for her Government.

Despite the fact that the Conservative Party under David Cameron won a majority at the General Election in May 2015, Mrs May is making it clear that her approach is very different and that this is, in effect, a new Government not just a reshuffle of the old. The appointments are a million miles from the ‘friends’ approach of Cameron and May is also quickly showing that she is not a fan of the spin approach of Cameron and, previously, Tony Blair.

But what does this mean for public affairs and what should you do about it?

  1. Listen for the silences – a new team will always talk about their immediate priorities and special attention should be paid to the speeches that are made, comments made on social media etc. Projects and existing policies may quickly be committed to but on other matters there could be a deafening silence. This may not mean that a change is imminent but could indicate that there is a discussion to be had. So, for instance, HS2 seems to be safe and there is no sign of a U-turn over the controversial Apprenticeship Levy but the post-Brexit arguments on such matters are still really to be made.
  2. Brexit – do not underestimate the impact that this will have on everything the Government does. No-one yet knows what the political process for Brexit will be and how much time it will eat up of the civil service (it will though be a lot!). Expertise is already been drawn from outside government and there is general agreement that the UK simply does not have the people in government to do the international trade deals it needs to progress once it is outside of the EU.
  3. Not all change – whilst George Osborne may have ditched the deficit target as one of his final acts as Chancellor, there should be no misconception that the age of austerity is over. Tax and spending will remain tight and whilst there will be some room for manoeuvre, that will primarily be given over to whatever consequences there are of Brexit. The new Treasury team is stating very clearly that there will be an economic consequence to Brexit, it is only the size of it that is unclear. So any idea that there is a general pot of money that is now available is wrong.
  4. The new team – responsibilities for the new team have still to be set out and information will continue to be released over the coming days. The new team will no doubt use the summer to settle into their new roles but there is no harm in making early contact, and it should be encouraged. However, the often desperate ring rounds to get mobile numbers for new advisers should be avoided. Such contact can be counterproductive unless there is something solid to discuss. Relationships need to be established and time invested in them.
  5. Build on previous contact – even with new teams in place, a good track record of engagement will always pay dividends. Being able to demonstrate that you take part in policy development and, critically, will continue to do so shows a consistency of approach that means that you can be relied upon.

It is critical for organisations that that their voice is heard in these early stages of a new Government. Whilst it offers the chance of a clean slate for policy, governing is often a process of evolution, rarely revolution, especially when the same party is in power.

So despite the changes it is important to go into engagement with a healthy dose of realism and do not think that everything will sudden change. Having said that organisations should not be afraid to test new ideas as well – all governments like to be a little radical sometimes!

19 July 2016

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