steven george-hilley

Budgets need PR too, Hammond

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Ever since I was a junior account executive in my first agency over a decade ago, budget day has been a highlight in my PR calendar.

The pre-announcement press leaks, jeers and cheers in the commons and the traditional ‘rabbit out of a hat’ moment make it an incredibly busy and enjoyable day for those who thrive on rapid response tactics.

Nothing quite beats the thrill of pestering your clients to sign-off on your all-important expert comment and firing it out as the Chancellor winds up his annual speech.

Back then, I’d be enthusiastically reading through the full text document in a desperate effort to find a link to the tech industry. I recall several budgets where there were no references to tech at all and instead I was forced to ‘call for’ extra investment in the sector in the absence of hard facts.

Yesterday’s announcement was, however, a very different experience.

It is fair to say that this was the most tech-friendly budget in history. Artificial Intelligence (AI) Big Data, driverless vehicles, digital skills, cyber training, computer science, teaching, learning and extra investment.

On a personal level, it’s thrilling to see B2B technologies now shaping the direction of government policies to solve real world problems. I have long preached the power of IT to fuel the economy and improve people’s lives. After years of waiting, it looks like it’s starting to happen.

Upon reviewing the morning papers, it appears that Hammond’s budget has been broadly welcomed for its optimistic tone and big thinking initiatives.

One of the reasons the Chancellor has captured the imagination of the public with this budget is the use of storytelling alongside hard numbers to paint a picture of what Britain’s future will look like.

There are some astute and timely announcements in there, that smack of a more media-savvy operation inside Number 11.

The pledge to tackle plastic waste pollution announced just days after the BBC’s Blue Planet 2 programme shocked the public with it’s detail on the damage non-biodegradable waste can inflict on our oceans and marine life.

“I’m impressed they are doing something about plastic waste,” says a green, environmentalist friend to me via text message. That’s politics working.

In addition, the proposals for 12,000 new computer science teachers and extra training budget for pupils studying maths, demonstrates that the public service investment can have a direct impact on the UK’s economic future.

Surrounding this announcement are a wealth of other commitments to boost AI research, data analytics and cyber skills training. These are much needed proposals that underline Britain as a big thinking country that is ready to lead in the increasingly competitive digital economy.

So say goodbye to ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ a nickname the Chancellor used to like. The public don’t want number crunchers in the Cabinet, they want forward thinking, ambitious visionaries who can create amazing policies to improve their country and wider society.

It’s not about spin and deception, it’s about strong leadership and creating policy narratives that trigger conversations around the breakfast tables, bars and community centres across the country.

Politics cannot work unless our elected representatives can capture the imagination of the public. Our democracy can only thrive if we are all incentivised to engage in the political process, whether that’s as supporters, detractors or floating voters.

Philip Hammond has given us all a budget worth talking about instead of ignoring.
For me, that’s good news for politics, great news for our democracy and hopefully in the long term for the future of the country.

Politics cannot be stripped down to numbers and policy detail alone.

Without PR and communications expertise it can risk being ignored by the very people its designed to reach out to.


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