UK: Opening Up The Policy Space

Last Updated: 23 May 2013
Article by Stuart Thomson

Many governments, not least ours, continue to struggle with the lack of growth in the economy.  But rather than see that as a constraint on engagement, it should be viewed as an opportunity for engagement.

Whilst unemployment has not risen, some economists have suggested that this is down to employers renegotiating roles, responsibilities and wages with their staff rather than being a signal of inherent strength in the economy.  The issue remains for government, how to deliver the economic growth and jobs needed to get the country moving again, whilst also reducing the deficit.

For lobbyists and those involved in trying to develop policy this opens up the policy space. Rather than being seen as a huge constraint on what government wants to hear, it is the role of lobbyists to help organisations find the space to engage.  That means understanding what the government wants, its timescales and also those of individual departments.

For instance, there is a large debate to be had around what the role of the state is in a modern economy.  Cuts are being made to budgets but little consideration has been given to the preferred outputs of the public sector or whether services could be better delivered by other actors.

These sorts of debates are often considered too big or without sufficient commercial foundation for many to engage in.  But if it is what Government is struggling to cope with and there is sufficient space then these are the sorts of opportunities that should be grasped.

Elections also open up policy spaces.  Each political party has a manifesto to write and needs to fill it with interesting and deliverable ideas.  Earlier engagement is always preferable with the relevant policy teams.  Elections also focus the mind of government. With fixed-term Parliaments, the date of elections are now largely static so Governments cannot choose to call the General Election at a time that suits them best and gives them maximum electoral opportunities.

For this Government, this is already opening up the policy space around growth and jobs. Deliverable ideas, boosting jobs and growth, in a short time frame will be given consideration.  The government needs to deliver jobs and growth so that they have something to show to the electorate for their time in office.

Particularly in the realm of infrastructure, the call for 'shovel ready' schemes has been made time and time again.  Those with such schemes should be knocking down the door of government but importantly also using the schemes as a chance to unblock decision making, funding and traditional civil service ways of doing business to giving schemes the go-ahead.

The Coalition, especially the blue portion Conservative Party part, is deeply frustrated by the civil service and believes that it is blocking its policy agenda.  Practical advice and ideas about unblocking these systems and processes, whilst maintaining suitable appropriate protections, are welcome by Ministers.

Similarly, Labour too needs to have something to show for the last two years that it has spent developing policy.  Expectations have been raised.  The policy outcomes need to provide a clear indication about how a Miliband-led government would be different both from the Coalition but also the previous Labour government.

Wider strategic thinking about political communications and engagement is the requirement of the day.  Simply 'selling' an idea to Government is insufficient.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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