267: What comes next? Public affairs life after COVID-19 lockdown
Organisations are beginning to think about what happens after the lockdown starts to come to an end. Government and parliament are no different so those in public affairs need to consider what their programme might look like.
The immediate period after the lockdown could take various forms, all of which are currently being speculated on. It seems clear that the release from lockdown will be gradual and different parts of the economy may be let loose sooner than others. We will all though, at all times, be guided by the latest medical and scientific evidence.
With that as the starting point, what are some of the issues that we should be considering and planning for?
- Tell government what you need – in line with the fundamentals of good public affairs, once you have mapped a path to getting out of the lockdown then let government know. That should be the case even if you do not require any additional support. In fact, that should especially be the case if support is not required. Under those circumstances, it should be all about giving government the confidence to allow you to start operations again. Government has been open to hearing views throughout this whole period. If ongoing support is needed, then government has to be able to see that the cheques do not need to be written well into the distant future. Again, you need to be able to explain the plan for becoming self-sufficient again. What is the path to a financially stable future?;
- Priorities will shift – maintaining a watch on what government is up to is always important but the implications of COVID-19 could lead to rapid shifting priority changes. So, as the resources allocated to handling COVID-19 and its implications shift, this will have knock-on ramifications. That may help or may hinder you, your issues or sector. It will certainly need a reaction. That would be moving quickly to grasp an opportunity or thinking about whether an ‘ask’ needs to be delayed. There is no doubt that the NHS will be right at the top of the priority list but will ‘levelling-up’ feature to the same degree? Will the need to get the economy moving again mean pushing the areas where the economy is already at its strongest? Will that favour London?;
- Timings may change – what government thought was priority even at the start of the year, may not feature at all now. Instead, it seems clear that a cross-party agreement on looking for a long term solution to social care will be the focus of much attention along with the economic recovery plan. We have already seen consultations being extended so it is likely there will be delays in outcomes outside of COVID-19 for some time to come;
- Engagement will change – how we engage with parliamentarians has already started to change and, in the absence of a vaccine, that is unlikely to alter. We are getting used to new ways of virtual working and will need to continue to adopt these approaches into engagement as well. So just as in a recent blog, I highlighted the changing nature of events, we similarly have to think about all aspects of engagement. Some MPs are happy to Zoom but do you want to screen share? What sort of content should you screen share? Would infographics work well to help the discussion? Zoom doesn’t replace face-to-face discussions, they just need to be moved to a later date.
- Set-piece government announcements – it is useful to give some early thought to how COVID-19 is going to impact spending review and autumn budget announcements. It is obviously still very early but will we still be able to feed into in the same way? If not, then start to think about some alternatives especially if you will continue to need finance. As mentioned above, the future way, continued justification and ‘way out’ will be crucial. Government is prepared to be generous at the moment but that will become less the case over time.
There will be a whole number of implications many of which is simply impossible to double guess at this stage. So we all need to be extremely agile and react in a positive and pro-active way when the situation does change. In that way, your public affairs can be at its most effective and colleagues will be given a clear demonstration of its real value.