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Archive for May, 2019

Double hire to spearhead corporate communications growth

WA Communications has hired Lee Findell and Sarah Gullo to lead the growth of its corporate communications practice.

Findell joins as Director and Head of Corporate. He brings 19 years of agency experience including Weber Shandwick, Freuds and FTI, and for the last four years as Senior Director at MHP, where he led a team focused on corporate communications and reputation management for brands such as L’Oréal, Coca-Cola, Zurich Insurance and the RAF.

He is joined by Associate Director Sarah Gullo, who has rejoined WA Communications after living abroad for the past 18 months. Formerly in the WA Health team, Gullo has a wealth of in-house and agency corporate communications experience across the health, utilities and development sectors and was a senior political media advisor in Australia.

Together, they will be expanding WA’s corporate communications offer to focus on corporate narrative and positioning, integrated campaigns, crisis communications and business change communications.

Welcoming their appointment, WA Communications Managing Director Dominic Church said: “Lee and Sarah bring impressive national and international corporate comms experience to WA and will build an exceptional team as we expand our reach in the corporate communications field. We are absolutely delighted to have them join the WA team as we continue to grow the agency and bolster our corporate communications credentials.”

PRWeek recently named WA Communications in the top 5 of UK public affairs agencies, and ranked the consultancy 81 in the top 150 PR consultancies.

Findell added: “WA Communications has a strong reputation as a leading public affairs consultancy helping business to address complex commercial challenges, and I am excited to come on board to expand the nascent corporate communications practice as the consultancy continues to go from strength to strength.”

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Endgame for May, but what comes next?

Theresa May’s speech yesterday afternoon represented a last roll of the dice, gambling on cobbling together a cross party consensus to land a Brexit deal. It is clear this morning that this has manifestly failed. The headlines will make for painful reading in Number 10.

The ‘new’ deal has been resoundingly rejected by all of the key parliamentary caucuses it needed to win support from, and yet the government is insisting this doomed deal will be put to a parliamentary vote the week after next. It would take a remarkable turn of events for this to pass.

And then what? May has confirmed she’ll set out a timetable for her departure following the vote. This is likely to happen quickly, a contest that has already begun, and is moving rapidly into an open battle between candidates (now numbering at least 15) ahead of Summer recess in late July.

The prospective leaders jostling for position fall broadly into three camps – the Brexit purists, the One Nation Conservatives, and those that are trying to appear as potential unifiers sitting somewhere in between, or even with a foot in both camps. Clearly Boris Johnson is an early front runner. But history shows that the leading candidate does not always win. The key milestone is whether Boris makes it into the final two candidates put into the run-off to be voted on by the Conservative membership.

Received wisdom in Westminster is that if Boris is in the final two, then he wins. Conservative Home’s polling of members (admittedly self-selecting) indicates this is likely with Boris leading the field with 32%, followed by Dominic Raab with 15% and Michael Gove as the best of the rest with 8%. But already there is an ‘anyone but Boris’ campaign gearing up with some MPs asserting they wouldn’t serve under PM Johnson, including the Scottish Conservatives who, led by Ruth Davidson, have said they would break away and form a separate group. Questions remain as to whether the anti-Boris movement is as strong as it was last time around. Some conservative commentators have suggested a Boris-led campaign would be most likely to shake the confidence of the Corbyn-led Labour Party, and even Amber Rudd welcomed his endorsement of One-Nation conservative values.

Which candidate the European Research Group supports will be key. There is likely to be at least three prominent pro-Brexit candidates, and it is not clear that Boris can automatically command total support. He’s already starting to triangulate by trying to appeal to more centrist minded colleagues – tweeting a glowing endorsement of the One Nation caucus’ principles in response to their launch earlier this week. It’s quite a high wire balancing act as the more of the old Boris we see (liberal minded, open to immigration, keen on public spending), the less support from his ERG comrades he can automatically rely on.

As the contest evolves, the support attached to individual candidates will coalesce around a small number of front runners – probably in pro and anti-Brexit camps. At this point king or queen makers can trade in their committed supporters in exchange for a promise of a plum job in the new administration. It is quite possible that Michael Gove, Sajid Javid and Amber Rudd will fall into this category. Dream tickets may emerge as prospective Chancellors add their support and run alongside their preferred leadership candidate.

Throughout the campaign Boris will also have to carefully consider what type of PM he actually wants to be. If he’s successful, the commitments he makes in this campaign will be hung around his neck for years to come. Political strategists would argue that a candidate runs most effectively by appealing to their base to gain the nomination, and then pivots to the centre once in power as open tent unifier of the divided country. But if he is bound by his campaign commitments (particularly on Brexit), he may find it difficult to command a majority of MPs once he gains the top job.

In that situation a General Election becomes almost unavoidable. However, with the two main parties facing a mauling in this week’s European Elections, no Labour or Conservative MP is likely to be relishing the idea of going back to the country any time soon.

Buckle up everyone. It’s going to be a bumpy ride – and it’s only just getting started.

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Aviation and the climate war – a terminal illness?

Many across England – especially those in Merseyside and North London – have spent much of the last two weeks frantically looking at flights, scrolling up and down the exorbitant prices that might get them somewhere near their destination at some point near the first weekend of June. But as difficult as many might have found it to get to Madrid on that weekend, for something less than £1000, this could well be the future for all air travellers.

Focus on climate change has increased in recent months, with the Extinction Rebellion protests seemingly focusing minds both in the UK and abroad. The impact of these protests, whatever public perception is, has already been profound. There is no doubt reduction of carbon emissions will be a key factor of policy making for parties across the political spectrum. One of the key sectors this will affect is transport. And aviation will be under particular scrutiny.

Earlier in May the advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said the UK’s planned increase in aviation would need to be curbed to restrict CO2 emissions. Having earlier set out plans to increase aviation when the 2050 target was a reduction of CO2 emissions 80 per cent. Since this was reduced to zero emissions, there have been calls for this target to be cut. The lack of meaningful progress in reducing of aeroplane emissions hasn’t helped.

While in many other areas of transport, significant leaps are being made to reduce the staggeringly high levels of emissions, aviation has been left behind. Although there have been some substantial innovations to reduce carbon emissions, and work continues to make this even more effective, advances in aviation technology still lag some way behind other sectors. Where electric cars and electric trains are now established across the world, aviation technology has made decidedly less dramatic steps.

There is an option available to airlines in order to mitigate the impact of flights – carbon offsetting. Raising prices per unit of CO2 emitted – ideally investing this into carbon offset schemes – is something that could be introduced. The positives are clear; by removing cheap flights there will be an inevitable drop off in air traffic and a reduction in carbon emissions. But there are significant negatives.

Chief among these is economic. The call for an increase in UK aviation is not without merit for Britain. As WA has seen first-hand with its work in the aviation sector, an increase in passengers has huge positive implications for industry and small businesses in the area surrounding the airport – with additional positive effects for the rest of the country. Just this week, annual statistics from Birmingham Airport showed a record number of passengers, following their Master Plan launch last year. An aviation strategy which prioritised regional airports could go a long way to redressing the economic regional imbalance across the country.

A further concern is the social impact of a significant hike in air fares. The UK already has the highest Air Passenger Duty (APD) in Europe – and a further rise in air fares based on carbon emissions could price lower income households out of travel abroad. More than denying families access to cheap package holidays (a much more serious issue than it might seem), denying a significant portion of the population the opportunity to see the world with a regressive tax. In a time of increasing isolationism and rising xenophobia, this is a potentially worrying trend.

This is not to mention the impact a global hike in air fares could have on developing countries, whose populations will be priced out of global travel to avert a crisis their country has largely not been responsible for. The idea of the developed world pulling up the ladder on the global south will sit uneasily in many quarters.

So what is to be done? First and foremost, and rather optimistically, necessity is the mother of invention. The fact there is a serious threat to the future of widely available air travel represents an opportunity for industry to come up with potentially profitable solutions. Whether that be through a zero emission aeroplane (unlikely in the short term) or a more substantial reduction in emissions in existing engine models, industry has the platform to make a decisive contribution.

This opportunity extends outside aviation as well. Improvements in rail and even road, cutting journey times as well as emissions, could significantly reduce air traffic without the need to stifle economic development. Of course, this would mean significant infrastructure investment from government (which if HS2 is the benchmark is unlikely to be smooth sailing), but industry can provide incremental solutions.

There is no mistaking: climate change is not going away. And governments will need to adopt increasingly “radical” proposals in order to address its causes. If aviation is to be a part of the future industry and government. Otherwise, opportunistic airlines and high prices will be the least of the worries for travellers from Mombasa to Montreal. And… Madrid.

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WA’s Digital Health Map: Understanding the digital landscape in health

For years, the pace of change in digital health has outstripped government and NHS policy. But the landscape is changing rapidly. With digital being the bedrock of Matt Hancock’s health vision, a long-term plan for health in place and a growing digital architecture to support innovation, for industry there’s never been a better time than now to shape the digital revolution.

Against this background, WA Health held a senior-level industry roundtable meeting with Richard Sloggett, Special Advisor to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, and Anna King, Commercial Director at Health Innovation Network. Discussions focused on why the time is ripe for industry involvement, and how to navigate the complexities.

The meeting was largely positive, with a clear enthusiasm from attendees about the potential role industry can play in leading this growing, fast paced and important agenda. It was argued that there are now more opportunities and stronger political backing than in the past, so there’s a real chance to make the UK the best place globally to ‘do digital’.

But with multiple policies and organisations (some dating back to the Coalition Government) involved in the agenda, there is much confusion about how and who to engage with. And the landscape grows ever more complex; with Digital Innovation Hubs, Local Health and Care Record Exemplars (LHCRES), Academic Health Science Networks, The Health Tech Advisory Board and the Data Guardian to name just a few.

And of course, July 2019 will see the launch of NHSX – the new unit tasked with driving forward and aligning the digital transformation of health and social care.

The organic nature in which these systems have developed means there is sometimes overlap, and change will take time.

To help you navigate this system, WA Health has developed a new Digital Health Map, designed to give some order to the complexity. You can access the Digital Health Map via the link below.

We’d love to talk to anyone seeking to engage with the system on digital health and innovation, so please do get in touch at deansowman@wacomms.eprefix.com.

WA’s Digital Health Map

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Turning up the heat on climate change policy

There’s a new kid on the block in UK politics. Climate change and the demand for radical, green policies has burst onto the political stage and into our discourse in recent weeks. This has been driven by the Extinction Rebellion protests which took over London in a huge display of civil disobedience, capturing the eye of the media and dominating the debate as MPs returned from recess.

Research by Greenpeace found that two-thirds of people in the UK recognise there is a climate emergency, and 76 per cent say they would cast their vote differently to protect the planet. Once Brexit has been dealt with (or kicked sufficiently into the long grass), and as parties begin posturing for a general election, will climate change feature as a primary focus of the Conservative Party’s agenda?

Labour have already staked their ground. Keen to talk about anything but Brexit and focus on bashing the Tories on austerity, Labour have linked their green policies to their narrative of protecting workers and ensuring fair outcomes. Labour’s headline economic policies – such as nationalisation – are also underpinned by a criticism that companies are not doing enough to protect the environment.

Tackling climate change with a radical shift towards a clean, green economy fits perfectly into Labour’s narrative, but it is less of a natural fit with the Conservative’s.

Yes, the government’s Road to Zero, Clean Growth and Industrial Strategies outline an ambition and roadmap to follow, signposted by big policies such as banning petrol and diesel cars, and marked by achievements such as the UK running without coal for a week for the first time since the Industrial Revolution. But despite this, they are constantly criticised for not doing enough. The Committee on Climate Change, the government’s official climate adviser, found that current policies are not sufficient to meet existing targets – never mind their new recommendation of net-zero emissions by 2050. 16-year old climate activist and de-facto leader of the new climate movement, Greta Thunberg, also accused the government of “creative carbon accounting” by excluding certain emissions in headline figures.

The Conservatives have never been the party of the environment but, in their time in government, they have certainly now shored up some green credentials – or at least they have a policy record to talk about on the campaign trail. The swell of public attention to climate change, the fragility of the Conservative government, and Labour’s strong, radical alternative, might force a change of tack from the Conservatives.

Ideologically, the Conservatives are simply not willing to intervene in the market with a heavy hand, something climate change activists are calling out for. However, as there has been a growing recognition that markets are not working for consumers, regulation has increasingly become a feature of Theresa May’s government – particularly around consumer protection. Will the next focus of regulation be on markets not working for the environment?

With May’s leadership on a knife edge, the next leader will decide how the party handles the climate question. Reusable coffee cup in hand, Environment Secretary Michael Gove has overhauled his image with a stream of initiatives coming out of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Despite criticism that these policies were tokenistic, Gove has proved his political ability in navigating the Brexit-dominated arena and the Treasury’s austerity spending constraints to push relatively substantive policies out of his department. If Gove, currently standing at 8/1, becomes the next leader he will no-doubt capitalise on this with the environment featuring as a main item of his platform. It is also likely Gove could throw his weight behind another leadership candidate and become an eco-warrior Chancellor – if he doesn’t get distracted.

As for the other candidates (bearing in mind most Conservative MPs have thrown their hat into the ring already) this is less clear. Liz Truss, zealous advocate of the free market, would be unlikely to suggest massive state intervention on behalf of the environment but other, more moderate, Conservatives may rethink intervention and regulation’s role in managing climate change. More broadly, newly promoted Rory Stewart is a proponent of considering climate change in development aid funding – an interest also held by grassroots favourite Boris Johnson. As the leadership contest gains pace, we’re sure to find out more.

With climate change now integral to our political discourse and championed by opposition parties, the Conservative Party will be forced to respond out of political necessity. However, they will certainly face a challenge in balancing a green vision with the pro-market beliefs which underpin their ideology.

But what does this mean for business? While this debate hots up, businesses must demonstrate how they are already facilitating the shift to a carbon-free future and acting in the common interest. In many ways this is already happening, but, as public and political pressure ramps up, businesses are certain to be in the spotlight.

Businesses should capitalise on this new-found momentum to put pressure on government to acknowledge the challenges they face. Those with climate friendly policies and breakthrough technologies must clearly set out their role in enabling both parties’ future vision. Climate change is firmly on the agenda, businesses must adapt or face interventions of varying proportions from across the political spectrum.

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When national politics becomes a local headache: Reviewing the 2019 local elections

Local elections often don’t capture the political imagination. Expectations are managed and met, spokespeople proclaim that there are nuanced or local factors at play to explain results, and then we return to the Westminster bubble.

While some of this may be true in the 2019 local elections, the timing of the election and its scale – some 8,000 councillors – means it will have a lasting impact on our councils, political parties and Westminster.

Big problems for the bigger parties?

Commentators expected Theresa May’s Conservative Party to take a beating in these local elections. Expert predictions had ranged anywhere from losing 400 to 800 councillors, with some party spokespeople suggesting it could be close to 1,000. It looks as if these fears will be met with Conservatives continuing to suffer heavy losses in district shires across England.

While council election losses are expected for a governing party, the scale of the results will be difficult to take. The Conservative Party has been incredibly resilient in local elections since joining government in 2010 and it has given them a guaranteed activist base in seats they hold or are targeting.

Governments must eventually succumb to political gravity, but this a further blow to Theresa May and her chances of remaining in Downing Street even in the short term. Many defeated councillors and council leaders have already highlighted the government’s failure to deliver Brexit as a reason for the scale of losses, claiming it meant voters could no longer trust the party. Others simply appeared exasperated and wanted Brexit to be over. The combination of the poor results and candidates blaming the government’s handling of Brexit will embolden May’s critics as she seeks to cut a deal with the Labour Party.

Amongst this set of results there was some good news for the Conservative Party. There is a trend of the party performing well in northern and midlands authorities that were heartlands for Labour. The councils it has performed well in are made up of small towns with socially conservative and pro-Brexit voters while Labour appeals to urban and graduate voters. So far it has gained in North East Lincolnshire, Walsall, North East Derbyshire and held key authorities bell weather like Swindon. This election confirmed the trend started in the 2017 local and general elections of strong support in new territory for the party, even at the expense of more liberal voters, and gives an indication of the future route to success for the Conservative Party that leadership candidates may consider. The road to a majority may be through seats like Mansfield, Ashfield and Newcastle Under Lyme over Bath and Chelmsford.

The Labour Party’s night has been more muted. Initial predictions had Jeremy Corbyn’s party gaining around 200 councillors. So far though the party has lost 100 seats and been humbled by an independent candidate in the Middlesbrough mayoral election. The party will point to an increased majority on Plymouth Council and taking control of Trafford and Amber Valley as examples of its incremental gains, but this is the second set of local elections in which the party has flattered to deceive.

While some Labour MPs have been quick to blame the party’s Brexit stance, suggesting that by trying to please everyone the leadership are pleasing no one, but there might be other electoral challenges for Labour. Lisa Nandy MP (Labour, Wigan) has highlighted the party continues to struggle in small towns while it is piling votes up in urban centres. There are only so many votes in cities and among graduates that the party can capitalise on before it reaches a ceiling, and what may worry Labour more is that it actively sought to tackle this problem in the 2019 cycle. The party had tried to connect its radical message to the neglect that many of these towns and communities felt, with all its party-political broadcasts focused on this. It has little to show for this work, with it going backwards in areas like Bolsover, Bolton and Derby suggesting this problem has become entrenched and will actively hamper the party as it seeks to form a majority.

A yellow wave?

The big winners of the 2019 election are undoubtedly the Liberal Democrats. What started as a positive evening by gaining Bath and North East Somerset grew to a great set of results, taking councils that few predicted like the Vale of White Horse, The Cotswolds, North Devon and even Chelmsford. As it stands currently, the party has gained over 500 councillors in the best set of local election result for the party ever. The Greens too have made considerable advances, making gains on a range of councils it previously had no representation on.

Some commentators credit Vince Cable’s party’s clear stance on Brexit, in stark contrast to Labour position. While this may have helped in some authorities such as remain supporting Bath and Winchester, it less effectively explains gains in North Devon and Chelmsford or the small numbers of councillors it has gained across local authorities. Perhaps more convincingly, the Liberal Democrats have re-established themselves, at least in the short term, as a vehicle for protest at local and national politics.

Say it quietly, but the Liberal Democrats brand might no longer be tainted by coalition. Many of the local authorities it has gained or made good progress in are the types of areas the party would look to target in a general election as it seeks to reassert itself as a force in British politics. Despite the strong performance in these local elections, Liberal Democrats and commentators alike must remember that these results only return the party to roughly where it was before the 2015 general election when it faced wipeout.

There is only so much we can read from one cycle of local elections. These results may be radically different in three weeks with two new parties seeking to make their mark. Yet one thing the 2019 local elections have taught us is that both Labour and the Conservatives have significant electoral challenges they must face up to if they are to win a majority in the next general election.

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The Battle for Westminster: Labour’s new policy engine

After nine years and countless gruesome deaths, the end looms for the most successful television series of all time. But for all those mourning the end of Game of Thrones there is some solace, for we don’t have to look far to see its parallel in our political drama.

Where the Conservative Party resembles the early sections of the series, with various kings and queens (leadership contenders) jostling for position on the Iron Throne (Number 10), over on the other side things seem rather clearer. Having risen from relative obscurity, the silver haired leader now commands almost total control, aided by an army of loyal fighters and some formidable “dragons” – perhaps stretching the metaphor to breaking point. It would seem that, like Daenerys, Corbyn is totally in control of his faction, but this is not to say that there is not still a jostling for ideas and the future direction of the Party.

Whereas the right has seen a flurry of new think tank and policy launches in the wake of the disastrous performance at the 2017 election, many used as a vehicle to propel a future leadership challenge, things have appeared rather quieter for the left. Having secured the hegemony of Corbyn as leader, and a victory for his ideas, on the surface at least policy development has appeared less about launching brand new ideas and more about fleshing out that which is already the platform. However, appearances can be deceiving.

Last week saw the launch of the newest vehicle for developing left-wing policy in the UK. Common Wealth is a think tank committed to offering radical solutions to models of ownership across the country and across sectors, looking at land, resources, capital and technology. The think tank brings together former IPPR Senior Research Fellow Mathew Lawrence as its Director – co-author of the “inclusive ownership fund” later adopted by John McDonnell – with a board featuring trans-Atlantic academic and economic development guru Joe Guinan, journalist Aditya Chakrabortty, and former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband MP (among others).

Where many might view the politics of the left over the last few years as being driven by protest, rhetoric and, at times, confusion, the launch of an already influential think tank suggests something very different. Much was made of the link between the UK Labour Party and the Democrats in the USA, in particular the activism and environmentalism of rising stars such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The sharing of ideas and campaign strategies across the Atlantic over the years to come is likely to continue as a theme over the coming years.

Another key theme, something which underpins every policy position, is the focus on environmentalism. This has come risen in the public consciousness following the two weeks of Extinction Rebellion protests, direct action welcomed by the Labour leadership, and features heavily in Common Wealth’s literature. There has been some debate in political circles as to the level of focus that should be placed on the issue – it seems the policy machine of the left has made its decision.

Having already demonstrated the strong links between the leader’s office and its directorship, Common Wealth should certainly be taken seriously by those looking at the future policy ideas of the Labour Party. What is of more interest for many though is what this focus on policy, with the backing of major unions, tells us about the Labour Party’s future direction.

Having been preparing for government since its surprise 2017 election performance, Labour is now looking to flesh out its radical policy offer by embracing various schools of leftist thinking which has taken off in the nine years out of power. While many have criticised the current leadership as representing a party looking backward at the hard-left of the 70s and 80s for inspiration, the Labour Party seems increasingly to be looking to how radical new ideas for the long-term future of the economy and democracy. The time-frame for the adoption of these ideas, and indeed the practicability of them, is open to plenty of speculation.

Where the Conservative leadership candidates battle for which ideas are likely to win the hearts of the electorate, specifically the young, Labour’s policy ambitions go further. And it is this which makes the launch of Common Wealth a key marker in the seriousness everybody should take the official Opposition.

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