MPs fear firms won't have enough information on Covid-19 and Brexit

3 June 2020

MPs are concerned the Cabinet Office (CO) “will not have the capability” to successfully deliver campaign messages on Brexit and Covid-19 at the same time.

In a report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), MPs warned it is “likely that the Covid-19 campaign will crowd out the Brexit transition campaign” at a time when firms should be preparing.

Businesses that have been badly hit by Covid-19 restrictions and the public will not have the capacity to act on both sets of crucial messages, MPs said. 

The report discussed failings around the CO’s ‘Get ready for Brexit’ campaign that launched on 1 September 2019, ahead of the UK’s planned leaving date of 31 October 2019. 

The report said the CO did not start detailed planning for the campaign until the end of July 2019 and despite spending £46m of taxpayers’ money on the campaign, the CO was unable to demonstrate that it led to people being better prepared.

“Planning started too late with insufficient attention paid at the outset to understanding what businesses needed, or how to monitor and evaluate the campaign’s success; thereby undermining the Cabinet Office’s ability to steer the campaign effectively,” the report said. 

“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.”

It added it is crucial for the CO to learn from the mistakes from the campaign and give businesses “sufficient information in good time” as they prepare for the end of the Brexit transition period on 1 January 2021. 

“When the transition period for the UK’s exit from the EU ends, it will result in significant changes for many people and businesses. When that happens, it will be vital that citizens are well prepared. Whether it be a member of the public planning to drive abroad, or a company trading across borders, all will need to understand, in good time, what action they should take and by when.”

Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, said: “The government is taking the UK through not one but two incredible, unprecedented political and economic upheavals simultaneously, but it is business, the public and the public purse that will suffer if it gets it wrong. 

“The government has shown it could not fully successfully deliver one such campaign, before the pandemic disaster hit – in that case with a lot of money spent on the overarching message but less success on the detail which changes behaviour. 

“With the nation’s fortunes, livelihoods and even lives at stake, the government must quickly give us confidence that it has learned the lessons and understands the scale of the task of running two campaigns like this, each much more complex and longer term than either the coronavirus stay-at-home or the original Brexit-date messages.”

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