Written by Emma Heley • Published 30th April 2015
How to change government policy: Top 10 Tips
The goal of public affairs is very often to seek a change to government policy. The PHA Group’s Public Affairs Account Manager, Emily Burditt, has worked on many successful campaigns to change government policy throughout her career, and her achievements include securing a cut to fuel duty, challenging unfair energy bill charges, cutting bingo duty and securing new guidelines on hospital car parking fees. Here she shares some of her tried and tested top tips.
1. Be realistic
Have a clear set of goals, but be realistic – if you want a costly tax cut, e.g. a reduction in fuel duty, concentrate on getting a 1p or 2p reduction, rather than 10p. Ensure that your proposal is fully costed, and be ready to explain why it is worth doing and who it will benefit. Your figures must stand up to scrutiny, as they will be challenged. Make sure you know the arguments for and against your issue, and prepare rebuttals.
2. Identify MP champions
Without a friendly MP or MPs, changing policy is almost impossible. Look through Hansard and see who has spoken about your issue, asked written questions on it or even voted for similar measures in the past. Get in touch with them, secure a meeting and persuade them to work with you going forward.
3. Build support
Draw up a list of external stakeholders with an interest in the outcome of your campaign and get them on board. This can include organisations like charities and businesses. The broader your coalition, the greater the impact you will have.
4. Get online
Set up a Twitter and Facebook account and be active. Targeted advertising will help these profiles grow. Set up a website that allows people to contact their MPs, in a similar way to 38 degrees. These are great for demonstrating the amount of public feeling behind an issue and gives your campaign momentum.
5. Get some media coverage
To really draw your attention to a campaign, you need to contribute something new to the debate. Write a paper which explains your case, and include real examples and statistics that will make people think twice. For example, the campaign for fairer hospital car parking charges drew attention to hospitals charging nearly £500 per week and mothers who were unable to visit their sick babies due to the cost. Release your research to the media, and ask the MP to mention it in the House of Commons as soon as possible afterwards, e.g. Business of the House Questions on Thursdays. This will ensure your campaign remains in the public eye.
6. Build support across Parliament
Keep your campaign as non-partisan as possible. Build your support network inside Parliament, and continue to meet with MPs and Peers who are likely to help. Find parliamentarians in each party who are willing to champion your cause, and ask them to table Written Questions, Oral Questions, EDMs or even a PMQ. You could also set up an APPG to draw attention to the issue, such as the Frozen British Pensions APPG, set up by the International Consortium of British Pensioners.
7. Meet the Minister
Meeting the relevant Minister and their Civil Servants is essential. Getting the meeting may be tricky, and as well as writing to the Minister and asking for one, you may also need to ask one of your supportive MPs to ask for a meeting during Question Time in the House of Commons. Bring a short brief to give to the Minister and their civil servants and be ready to demonstrate how much support there is for this issue. Make sure you ask for a photo, and if the Minister is happy, press release it.
8. Secure a Parliamentary Debate
Once you have a lot of support across the benches, apply for a Backbench Business Debate. You must have supporters in all the major parties, and ensure that a large amount of MPs are willing to speak in the debate. The backbench debate which secured the most support ever was one on direct debit energy charges in 2014, which a record 177 MPs supported, from 9 different parties.
9. Identify important dates
Identify key dates in the Parliamentary calendar, e.g. Budget Day. In the lead up to this, write letters to Ministers reminding them of the issue, and seek new meetings with stakeholders and MP to keep the pressure up. Set up a petition for the public to sign, and organise a rally in Westminster. This is essential to ensuring that your campaign remains at the top of a Minister’s agenda.
10. Say Thank You!
If you are successful, make sure you give the Government credit. This is noted, and leaves doors open for you in the future.