317: Government overdrive and the impact on public affairs
The summer can be busier than ever in public affairs. Parliament may not be sitting but there is more going on. Why is that the case and what are the risks you need to be aware of?
It has long been a tradition of Westminster politics to rush out a lot of announcements before parliament rises for its summer recess. Many of these announcements can be relatively minor but some can be hugely significant.
The first challenge is always to be aware of what government has rushed out because the sheer number of announcements can lead to a lack of attention or scrutiny. Certainly, there isn’t enough space across the media to give all the announcements attention, so it means we must go through them all and check their importance.
Just looking at what the government has released over the past few days reveals a huge range of critically important policy announcements. There are too many to go through in detail in this post but I was particularly struck by the proposed changes on consumer law, digital markets, innovation strategy, post Brexit regulation and I could go on a lot longer. The government has also stepped up announcements in recent weeks as well, such as the launch of the long-awaited Transport Decarbonisation Plan.
Then various reports were issued each containing recommendations for future action, not least interim findings from the review of football governance.
Not all the policies announced are as well defined as others. Some are broad outlines of the direction of travel for government policy, others set out some clear policies.
Regardless of the level of detail, most of the announcements require engagement. Particularly responses to consultations. As with consultation at any other time of the year, their scope can vary as can their timetable. That is the key issue to focus on because it is too easy to lose track of what needs to be done by when as so many announcements are made.
It also leads to a complete log jam on responses many of which need to be prepared at the same time, over the summer months when resources can often be most stretched not least because of annual leave.
Some initial reaction to key contacts may also be required with a view to setting up more formal engagement after the summer. Some of the announcements made may be of such importance that reaction needs to be more immediate and forceful. The obvious challenge is that politicians also go away (or as ‘away’ as is possible under COVID-19 restrictions) over the summer. That should not be an excuse not to undertake activity, but it does make things much more challenging. Contact is still possible, but it takes more effort. Ministers may be away, but others will offer cover in their place.
So, you need to:
- monitor / check the announcements;
- prioritise the issues;
- timetable your actions; and
- allocate your resources / seek outside support, if needed.
Then there are also the added risks involved in ‘silly season’ stories, those that the media run which would otherwise seem less important or maybe even frivolous. Obviously, these cannot be ignored but will be a hit on your time to factor in that chances of that happening as well (charity stories are a regular favourite during the summer months).
The government’s move into overdrive means that public affairs activity needs to step up just at a time when resources are often at their most stretched.