Top Tips for Lobbying Government
On Thursday evening we were lucky enough to be joined by Chris Smith, Baron Smith of Finsbury, British politician, peer and former Chair of the Environment Agency. Chris shared his top tips for effectively lobbying government to meet the needs of your members and I’m going to share them with you too!
Here we go:
1. When you are making your pitch, go directly to government, do not pass go, do not go through a professional lobbyist! Most ministers will “gently decline” an invitation from a lobbyist but will usually try to find time to meet an industry body or individual organisation.
A professional lobbyist might provide you with useful advice, but it is always best for you to go directly to government.
2. Make sure your pitch is linked to the priorities of the government and what they would like to achieve. Don’t go in and tell them that they’re getting it all wrong, after all, no-one likes that. Package whatever you are hoping to do so that it sounds in accordance with the government’s priorities. Don’t regard the Minister as an enemy but as a potential friend.
3. Use other channels too. Maybe you can use someone else within your organisation or network, maybe a member, who has links with government to lobby on your behalf. A pincer movement!
4. Aim at the Treasury at the same time that you are lobbying your departmental Minister. Ultimately the Treasury rules. Get your Department on side and then you can both make the best case to the Treasury.
5. Make common cause with your Department. That way whatever you are hoping to achieve becomes a joint enterprise and more important to your Minister. There might be other issues that you need to work on together.
6. Get Civil Servants on your side. They provide the fundamental base of knowledge on which Ministers make their decisions. Meet the Civil Servants that work in your area and make yourself an indispensable source of information for them. They juggle a lot of balls, make their lives easier!
7. The Most Important Tip. Go to Ministers with solutionsas well as problems. “This is a terrible situation, it needs to be sorted out. Here are 5 things that you could do to improve things”.
Put more things on the list than you hope to achieve, with some easy, low-hanging fruit. Make the case passionately for all that you want to do.
8. Don’t ask for the moon. Ask for what is really essential to you in small, measurable, easy to do steps.
9. Take advantage of events. When Chris was Chair of the Environment Agency, he found that the Treasury’s purses opened more easily during times of bad flooding. Healthcare/Medical associations may be able to use the Corona Virus crisis as an opportunity to access extra funding for its members, for example.
10. Never underestimate the value of a serious reporton the state of your industry.
If you have a piece of well-evidenced research with a series of steps and response, use it!
11. Use back bench pressure. If you can make your issue a civic case, then you will be able to use backbenchers to exert further pressure on the Minister.
12. Don’t forget Local Government. They can be a useful source of lobbying, especially the city and county Mayors. They have a voice and they know what’s happening on the ground.
13. Outside pressure critical of the Minister. This may seem counter-intuitive but it can help your Minister make the case to government.
14. Complain after the final outcome. This can make it look good for the Minister, allowing him or her to look as if they’ve been tough on you and protect their position. This might help you in future negotiations.
And there you have it.
With all that food for thought, Chris then answered questions from our assembled members.
On the day of the Cabinet Reshuffle the first question was:
“What’s the most useful thing we can do for a new Minister to make a favorable impression?”
Obviously send a nice welcoming letter “….I’m sure you’re going to do a marvelous job….”.
Go out with this on all your social media too.
This is where your links with the Civil Servants will come in useful because they provide all the continuity in this situation. You will also need to build links with the Minister’s Special Advisers.
Offer the new Minister an opportunity, some sort of appearance or visit where they can shine and get good publicity.
How do you find out who the Special Advisers are?
Again, the Civil Servants will help here. Special Advisers (SPADs) vary in quality, they are much less hedged round than Civil Servants but they are much more overtly political.
Who should I take along to a meeting with a Minister?
Don’t take anyone along who is going to get too technical (that might mean the President is out, or will have to be well-briefed on when to keep quiet!), save that for the Civil Servants. The Minister will be interested in the human aspect. Take someone along who can tell a good story!
If you are new to lobbying, how do you make that first ‘cold call’?
Start with the Civil Servants. Who is the key Civil Servant who has responsibility for your area? Try and get hold of them, it might take a few phone calls.
Is there a generic best route for asking for funding?
If you have a very specific ask, go through the Civil Servant responsible for that budget. If it’s broader, find something relevant to the Government’s agenda to hook on to, i.e. levelling up the country or negotiating trade deals.
Are All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG) useful for lobbying?
Not really! Unless you have a group of genuinely interested Ministers or Lords in your APPG.
Is it worth asking a Parliamentary Question?
An oral question is not really worth the time because it will likely get caught up in the theatre of the Commons and you won’t find anything out. A written question is more useful because even though you may get a very bland response, there is a chance that you will find out a real nugget of information. At the very least it will flag an issue with the Civil Servants, making them aware that people are worried about this.
Now that Brexit’s done (?!?!) and deals are being negotiated left, right and centre, how do we flag an issue that may do untold damage to our industry?
It’s very difficult as there isn’t really any clarity about what Britain wants at this stage. Your best approach will be to go public in a big way so that the Government becomes aware of the issue and that people are worrying about it.
As you can see there was a lot of useful information contained in our discussion and I look forward to seeing all that lobbying in action. Maybe we can review how people have put all this information to use in 6-12 months time.