EU Exit: Get ready for Brexit Campaign Contents

2Considerations for the next campaign

Lessons learnt

19.The NAO’s report recognised that the campaign spanned the work of many departments, and that the Cabinet Office team had coordinated and worked closely with them to integrate messages to their respective target audiences. For example, the ground campaign involved teams in 15 different departments. The public was made more aware of some of the things they might need to take action on. However, the Cabinet Office could not demonstrate that the air campaign resulted in significantly better preparedness and it was unclear whether the audiences targeted by the ground campaign went on to take the required action. We were similarly sceptical that targeting specific groups had led to action being taken and were concerned that, without outcome targets, the Cabinet Office did not know if the money spent had an impact. For example, we asked how many of the 700,000 copies of a haulier’s handbook had been given out. The Cabinet Office confirmed that it did not know how or where these materials had been distributed. The NAO recommended that in future the Cabinet Office should, from the start, focus much more on what impact is needed and how the behaviour change required by government will be delivered. Its scrutiny of plans should place more emphasis on targeting resources on the combination of activities likely to add the greatest value, and there should be a more consistent focus on key performance metrics from an early stage.29

20.The Cabinet Office said that the NAO’s recommendations were lessons which were good and which it broadly accepted. It accepted that the relative lack of evaluation in the campaign was a fair challenge, said that evaluation of impact was something that it was keen to champion, and that it was fair criticism that there was not much up-front articulation of performance metrics.30 The Cabinet Office said that it had done its own evaluation of the campaign with its own separate report. It said that that was broadly aligned with the NAO. It also commented on the lack of disagreement about the lessons to be learned among other groups such as its Strategy and Evaluation Council and Ministerial Board.31 The Cabinet Office confirmed that it had not assessed the return on investment for the campaign. It argued that specifying a return on investment would not be practical, given the 26 actions the campaign was driving at, and the fact that the UK did not leave the EU on 31 October, but said it had its own evaluation report, the NAO report, and would be happy to do further evaluation.32

21.The Cabinet Office also said it would specifically: look at understanding more about the relationship between the air campaign for awareness and the ground campaign for activity and probably look to adjust the balance between the two; look to more targeted activity to drive behavioural change; and probably be more prioritised in the target audiences it chose to address. All of these points would improve the value for money of what it did next.33 It also highlighted having learned from the previous March campaign about the need to bring together messages from different parts of government targeted at the same group.34

22.The Cabinet Office stressed the importance of the lesson to ‘spend longer up front’.35 It also acknowledged that “We must learn, we must do it better next time and we must use the time that we have got now to see if we can get better metrics, so that we can measure it.”36 The Cabinet Office also said it would engage with industry earlier to find out what industry needed. It pointed to the potential for a more video-based and visual campaign, and more real-time data for the Cabinet Office to judge how well things were going and adjust if needs be.37

23.The Cabinet Office accepted the need to learn lessons and improve. But it was also keen to stress, given the context that the campaign ran in and the pace of delivery, that it was proud of the campaign and considered it to have been successful overall.38

Capacity to deliver a Brexit campaign alongside dealing with Covid-19

24.We took evidence from the Cabinet Office on 18 March 2020, five days before the Prime Minister’s televised address announcing social distancing measures and with the Cabinet Office already heavily involved in the expanding coronavirus public information campaign. With the transition period due to end on 31 December 2019, we were concerned about the capacity to deliver both campaigns simultaneously.

25.The Cabinet Office told us that it had an EU transition team, a Covid team, and behavioural science and evaluation teams which served both. Some people from the transition team were now working on Covid. It said that, while it would be a challenge, it could deal with both policies.39 The Cabinet Office said that, in respect of communications, there was no question that Covid had become the Government’s main effort. But, while some resources had shifted to Covid, there were still some devoted to EU transition, and activity was still going on in other departments for managing the end of the transition period in December 2020.40

26.We also asked whether the Cabinet Office considered it realistic to expect the public to receive two sets of important messages at the same time, and whether the Cabinet Office was advising Ministers on whether it was possible or sensible to deal with both simultaneously. The Cabinet Office said it was content to do both things, while recognising that that there were very serious issues ahead. It would see how things develop and do what is asked of it by Ministers.41

29 Qq 57–60; Note dated 30 March 2020 from Cabinet Office; C&AG’s Report, paras 15–17

30 Qq 20, 21

31 Qq 51, 67

32 Qq 67–69

33 Q 24

34 Q 55; C&AG’s Report, para 2.13

35 Q 64

36 Q 73

37 Qq 74–77

38 Qq 41, 43, 51, 55

39 Q 25

40 Q 26

41 Qq 27–29

Published: 3 June 2020