1.It will be essential to give businesses sufficient information in good time to enable them to be prepared for the end of the transition period. When the transition period for the UK’s exit from the EU ends, businesses will need to be ready to respond to new trade arrangements. Businesses have frequently stressed the importance of having information far enough in advance to allow them to prepare, and this Committee has previously commented on the late delivery of information as a weakness of the government’s EU exit planning. By July 2019, some government departments were reporting an urgent need to communicate with target audiences, including businesses, about action they might need to take. Yet the Cabinet Office did not start detailed planning for the campaign until the end of July 2019 and launched it on 1 September 2019 – just two months before the UK was expected to leave the EU on 31 October 2019. This left citizens and businesses with very little time to prepare.
Recommendation: The Cabinet Office should set out, as part of its Treasury Minute response, what specific actions it has taken to prepare an effective and timely communication campaign in for the end of the transition period.
2.The Cabinet Office may lack the capacity to successfully deliver campaign messages on preparations for the end of the transition period at the same time as delivering the major public health campaign on Covid-19. The Cabinet Office tells us that it is building its transition campaign team and learning lessons from the previous campaigns. However, some of the communications team have been transferred to work on the significant coronavirus public health information campaign, which is likely to continue for some time. We are concerned about whether the Cabinet Office will have sufficient capacity to work effectively on both campaigns simultaneously. It is likely that the Covid-19 campaign will crowd out the transition campaign. Businesses and the public may not have the capacity to act on both sets of messages. Currently the focus is on Covid-19. The Cabinet Office acknowledges the challenge but told us it would be possible to run both campaigns.
Recommendation: The Cabinet Office should be actively reviewing its ability to deliver simultaneously two major public information campaigns and the ability of citizens to absorb the vital messages on each. As part of its Treasury Minute response, the Cabinet Office should set out what it has done, and is doing, to ensure it has capacity to deliver both campaigns simultaneously.
3.The Cabinet Office did not focus enough on what behaviour change it needed to deliver or how to measure it. The campaign was designed to not only increase awareness but also to lead people to actually change their behaviour and take specific action. However, the Cabinet Office did not follow its own good practice and establish how it would monitor and evaluate the success of the campaign at the outset. We are concerned that the Cabinet Office could not demonstrate that the ground campaign resulted in action being taken by all the specific groups it sought to target. Just two of the 26 priority actions identified for citizens and businesses had a measurable target at the start of the campaign to suggest what success might look like. The Cabinet Office was able to demonstrate some impact such as increases in the number of passport renewal applications and applications for international driving permits. Yet, without targets for the level of activity expected or needing to be taken by the target audience from the outset, the Cabinet Office could not measure or monitor whether the campaign was successful in delivering the impact required and steer the campaign effectively.
Recommendation: Well in advance of the end of the transition period the Cabinet Office should ensure it is clear about the actions that it is seeking from businesses and members of the public, the degree of impact required, and how it will measure that impact across all activity.
4.The Cabinet Office did not focus sufficiently on what value it would derive from spending £100 million. In its business case the Cabinet Office examined four options for the campaign, ranging in budget up to £100 million. The £100 million option was designed to reach 99.9% of the population on average 65 times and was the only option to include extensive on-the-ground activity such as business readiness roadshows. Even then the Cabinet Office decided to allocate more than half of the £100m budget to the air campaign, despite believing that on-the-ground activity would have more impact. The business case did not attempt to quantify the different impacts the options would deliver in terms of preparatory action. The Accounting Officer accepted that there were value for money questions over the scale of the budget, but not enough to seek a ministerial direction and instead decided to rely on the creation of an assurance panel.
Recommendation: The Cabinet Office should write to the Committee within three months of this report to provide clear and specific assurance that in future it will use the analysis of options in business cases to drive decision making and deliver better value for the taxpayer.
5.The lessons learnt from running a large and complex integrated cross-government campaign at pace will be essential for future campaigns. Learning the lessons from its earlier campaign in advance of the previous March 2019 leaving date, the Cabinet Office decided to incorporate all EU exit communications by departments within the Get ready for Brexit Campaign. This close-working and coordination by the communications team across multiple departments meant target audiences received integrated messages. The ground campaign, involving teams in 15 different departments, used different approaches aimed at targeting more specific audiences, such as businesses trading at the border and hauliers. The Cabinet Office has drawn on the NAO’s findings to inform its own evaluation of the campaign and there is broad agreement on the lessons to be learned from it.
Recommendation: The Cabinet Office should write to the Committee within one month of this report setting out how it plans to act upon the lessons learned.
Published: 3 June 2020