“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it” so the saying goes from business sage, Warren Buffett. Can Rishi Sunak’s Government rebuild the Conservatives’ reputation on ‘sound money’ and economic competence while tackling a growing ‘in-tray’ of policy decisions? And how is Labour positioning itself as a ‘government in waiting’?
Read on as the Brands2Life Public Affairs’ team considers how, now with a relative period of political calm, businesses and organisations should bring evidence-based, politically-workable policy ideas to government, political parties and stakeholders in Westminster and across the UK.
The ‘dullness dividend’
The Sunak-Hunt promise of ‘economic stability and confidence’ would appear to be already paying off, with a ‘dullness dividend’ being created of lower long-term borrowing costs. With financial markets reassured, for now, both the Prime Minister and Chancellor are talking of deep budget cuts across government and the UK ‘paying its way’, while at the same time seeing how economic growth and business investment opportunities can be supported.
With a former Chancellor as Prime Minister, who delights in poring through the data tables of spreadsheets, policy spending is going to be carefully controlled by the Treasury – in part because they do normally anyway, part to correct the Kwarteng-Truss missteps, and part current circumstances on the budget ‘gap’.
Engagement in policy
The Prime Minister and his ministerial team have a burgeoning in-tray of policy decisions to take across the board – in many respects, the day-to-day business of government has been on pause since Boris Johnson announced his resignation in July.
However, with departmental spending budgets dictated via the Autumn Statement and the phalanx of ministers being new, or relatively new in post, it’ll take a month or more before individual departments can start to properly engage on policy. However, this time isn’t wasted – it’s a chance to continue engagement with officials, and specifically to provide briefings to help bring new ministers up to speed. It’s a chance to focus on current and future plans internally and externally building out alliances and networks to get support behind collaborative campaigns.
Any policy ideas into government will need to be very specific, evidence-based, fully costed and politically-workable, all with an eye to the current pressures on government spending. That applies whether looking for funding, cutting business costs and taxes or making the case for the removal of regulations that are hampering economic growth and job creation.
Tests could include how will any proposal ‘pay its way’, rather than be seen as ‘business welfare’? How will it advance UK productivity and make the UK an international leader in a specific field? Practical examples and business insights into regulatory barriers and workable solutions are always welcomed by ministers, special advisors and policy officials alike.
Areas of focus could include creating new (vocational) jobs, advancing technology and international trade and positively impacting ‘red wall’ (North and Midlands) areas of England.
While engagement into Whitehall is key, parliamentary select committee inquiries are a good channel to profile business insights and policy proposals. Devolved governments should also be part of any engagement strategy, given they have substantial powers on health, environment, and local government policies amongst others.
Taking decisions and building alliances
For all the relative political calm now, the Prime Minister needs to build alliances within government, inside and outside of Parliament. The tricky issue of fracking may be on hold, but wider issues of planning (housing, road, rail and energy infrastructure), and the post-Brexit trade regime, particularly in how it impacts the Northern Ireland Protocol and skilled worker visa scheme are areas where the Government will welcome some creative policy solutions.
While some local MPs will be vocal in opposing some of these politically-charged issues, particularly with constituency boundary changes looming large, it means that backbench Conservative MPs will have leverage to push their own campaigns and ‘exact a price’ from the Government for support. Businesses looking to influence policy development should pay close attention to their relationships with backbenchers.
Labour ‘moving on up’
With the Party riding high in the polls, engaging Labour now is paramount for businesses and organisations – helping them to understand business and organisational policy concerns and solutions. The internal Labour policy reviews are up and running and seeking inputs. With an election now on the horizon and Labour so far ahead in the polls, building a relationship with HM’s Opposition needs to be a key part of an organisation’s wider engagement strategy.
If you’d like to have an informal chat with the Brands2Life Public Affairs team about how the new Government may impact your business, what opportunities there are for engagement, and how you can best share your ideas, expertise and insights, please get in touch via [email protected].