Hitting the ground running: The first 100 days
Hitting the ground running: The first 100 days

How the Civil Service is preparing for the next government

Words by:
June 21, 2024

Throughout the election campaign, the civil service will be preparing for a potential change of government.

Drawing on the experience Sir Philip Rutnam, Chair of WA’s Advisory Board and former Whitehall Permanent Secretary; Natasha Egan-Sjodin, former Head of Ministerial Briefing at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; and Rachel Ford, former departmental Deputy Head of External Communications and Chief Communications Officer — we explore:


Sir Philip Rutnam
Chair of WA’s Advisory Board

Sir Philip is a former Whitehall Permanent Secretary, senior Treasury civil servant, and European Investment Bank official.

So what really happens at the start of a new government? Who does what when – and what does the whole thing feel like?

The first thing to remember is that for politicians who may have spent years in opposition and now find themselves in government, this is a moment of peak adrenaline and exhaustion.

The second thing is that, even in a new government that has won a convincing victory, there is immediately a phase of high politics and uncertainty revolving around who gets what job.

It is usually obvious who is going to fill the most senior Cabinet jobs, but not every member of the Shadow Cabinet will necessarily find themselves in the real one or in the job they expected. And that is even more the case for Shadow Junior Ministers. There are almost always some surprises in the final list of names, depending on who has had a good or bad election, and No. 10’s decisions on party management.

The same is true for the appointment of Special Advisers and for creating a new operation in No. 10.

In short, this is a key moment for the new Prime Minister and his top team to exercise real power, as well as a big logistical exercise spanning several days.

New governments also almost always start out with lots of central control. Expect a plan for the first few months of announcements, and a tight ‘grid’ run by No. 10 to manage news coming out of departments. One of the first big real decisions will be the legislative programme for the first session. Another, shortly after, is likely to be an emergency Budget. They will have developed ideas for both in opposition, but only in government will they have access to the information needed for real decisions.

What is less predictable is how No. 10 will actually work with departments, as opposed to trying to control them. Lots of models have been tried over the years and an equal variety of different organisational models in No. 10, but none has lasted. We simply don’t know how No. 10 will operate – unlike the Treasury, which is remarkably consistent (and effective) from one government to the next. Nor do we know how far No. 10 will go in reorganising Whitehall – creating new departments or merging others, though I wouldn’t be surprised if some of Rishi Sunak’s latest changes were reversed.

What about inside departments themselves? The first thing to say is that by the time a new government arrives every department will have made a huge effort to get ready.

Across each department, teams will currently be preparing for possible change: reading manifestos carefully and preparing briefing for new Ministers. Some of this will be about specific, urgent things – if the new government wants to make big changes quickly, or there is a crisis that has to be addressed immediately. Some of it is making sure Ministers can get up to speed quickly with the breadth of their roles.

Soon however, the time for prep will be over.

New Ministers have been appointed. They arrive, excited and a bit exhausted. What happens then? The first thing is to agree how they want to spend their first week and first month. Who do they need to meet in the department and who outside? What is the right mix of urgent and important topics that needs attention? And what do they want to do to set the right tone, like any high-profile visits or events. (We take a first-hand look at how a department’s Ministerial Private Office and Communications Team tackle these questions below).

My advice to any new Minister is that the single most important thing is to be clear about priorities.

The government machine can and will swallow up all your time with ‘stuff that needs doing’. ‘Events’ will swallow up even more. The way to keep the initiative is to have a very short list of important but achievable things that you will actually make happen. Choose those things well. Make them specific enough to be tangible. Create the right relationships inside and outside the Government to help make them happen. And stay totally on top of progress.

One thing I predict should be clear within 100 days of the election is which Ministers know that this is the way to control the agenda!



Natasha Egan-Sjodin, Director

Before joining WA, Natasha was the Head of Ministerial Briefing at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

On day one of a new government the Private Office plays an essential role.

The preparatory work undertaken by the department must now be presented to new Ministers as they are announced, and sudden cast list changes to predicted Ministerial teams caused by ballot-box surprises need to be factored in.

Private secretaries, the gatekeepers of Ministerial time and preferences, must learn the new habits and priorities of their primaries and, crucially, any personal policy platforms they have championed during the election campaign.

All of this must be fed back to the Director Generals waiting to be called in for first-day briefings so that the department is on the front foot.

At the same time, personal preferences must be learnt. For some Ministers, office art needs to be changed and briefing styles need to be communicated, for others new Special Advisers need to be quickly supported to get up to speed and meet critical people within the department.

For the outside world, this is a day to let Ministers and their new teams settle in and get up to speed.

First-day congratulation letters and briefings can wait until the work of government resumes; the time to feed in to those initial meetings is before this day comes, and the new opportunity emerges as policy teams are tasked with priorities in the coming weeks.



Rachel Ford, Director

Before joining WA, Rachel was the Deputy Head of External Communications at the Ministry of Defence, before which she was Chief Communications Officer at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Once the standard day-one communication formalities are over – a broadcast clip of the Secretary of State entering the department, a tweet saying how ‘thrilled’ they are to be appointed, and an internal message setting out their priorities – the real work for a government communications team begins.

The Director of Communications is usually one of the first people a new Secretary of State will meet and an ‘early visits and media opportunities’ paper will always be included in the day-one pack.

This presents an opportunity for businesses, as early as possible, to feed in visit ideas and policy announcements that a new Minister can get behind.

While a Secretary of State endorsement is a top priority for most organisations, media-hungry Junior Ministers can also be a good way of getting on the radar of the new Ministerial team. And as they will be the ones working on your portfolio on a day-to-day basis, early engagement is always beneficial.

To get ahead with visit opportunities, new Ministers and their teams are usually looking for household names, strong visuals (top marks for high-vis jackets and hard hats) and easy access to London or their constituency. Partnering with or flagging nearby opportunities so they can ‘make a day of it’ works well too.

Beyond planning visits and early announcements, a government communications team must also quickly react and get used to changes in ministerial communication styles, and what they mean for departmental announcements and campaigns.

Will a Secretary of State require a videographer to attend every visit to gather content? Will prolific tweeters demand their posts are promoted on departmental social media channels (even when close to the line)? Will a laborious sign-off process delay announcements? Will Spads and Ministers respect the No. 10 grid or try to do their own thing?

While press officers will often spend the first few days and weeks running around trying to find cameras, rewrite quotes and persuade No. 10 to let their Secretary of State do a sit-down interview, businesses should also be tracking the change in departmental communication style and what it means for them.

For example, social media enthusiasts pose both a risk and an opportunity for businesses – it can mean easy, direct access to those at the top, but say something they don’t like and this opens the door for public debate.

At the same time, understanding the new No. 10 narrative and how this drives cross-government communication activity is crucial in unlocking access. In recent years there have been cross-government communication working groups dedicated to issues such as levelling up and delivering the Industrial Strategy, so understanding the cross-government drivers and aligning activity to these messages is key in getting ahead.

Finally, with the pressure on a new government to make an immediate impact, it is likely that underperforming Ministers will be moved on in an early reshuffle – bringing new priorities, new quirks and new communication styles for communications teams and businesses to adapt to.

The reality is that no two Ministers, and therefore no two Ministerial teams, are the same, but one thing always rings true in government communications: be prepared to expect the unexpected.


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