Public affairs would benefit if powers were shifted away from Westminster

Devolving political power to cities would be a huge boost for the public affairs industry as well as being good for England.

Jo-Ann Robertson: 'For too long the public affairs industry has, much like politics and politicians, been stuck in the Westminster bubble.'
Jo-Ann Robertson: 'For too long the public affairs industry has, much like politics and politicians, been stuck in the Westminster bubble.'

I breathed a sigh of relief when the first of the Scottish referendum councils declared their result last month, as from that moment on it was clear it was going to be a decisive No vote. But very quickly after that, I began to think about the political implications of the strong Yes campaign and the incredibly strong turnout. Politics in Scotland, and indeed the rest of the UK, was going to change – hopefully for the better.

Devolution of power is becoming increasingly important. The localised economy of Greater Manchester is very different from the South West, or Birmingham, or indeed Scotland or Wales. So the idea of giving increased powers to the people who live and work in those areas is, in my view, a no-brainer.

English votes for English law creates a two-tier system of MPs, which is unhealthy and unworkable and doesn’t benefit the diversity of England. The quality of local government has increased dramatically during the coalition Government’s time. Due to the level of cuts, local government has had to be focused on innovation, self-determination and modernisation.

Devolving power to the city economies would be much more beneficial to the local communities they would serve to support than an English Parliament. But whatever the final decision, we can be sure that power and decision making across the UK is going to change over the next 12 months.

So what will be the impact for public affairs agencies?

Full devolution to city economies would be a huge boost for the public affairs industry. Not only would it improve the quality of public affairs and diversify the workforce, it would also provide many more opportunities for growth.

For too long the public affairs industry has, much like politics and politicians, been stuck in the Westminster bubble. The increase in powers for Scotland and Wales, and the devolution of power to English communities, would mean that the industry would have to develop an increased knowledge of how Great Britain works and what drives local economies.

It would also be a huge boost for talent. No longer would the industry be sucking the best talent into London. In fact, local talent would be essential to the success of the public affairs industry. Understanding the nuances of local areas, being connected to the decision makers and being able to speak the ‘local language’ will give new talent a huge opportunity.

Finally, it would offer a significant revenue opportunity. Devolved localised government would be more likely to have a steady and significant stream of legislation that businesses and organisations would need to understand and influence.

The likelihood of this level of devolution being pushed through by the main political parties is slim. But maybe it is a campaign the public affairs industry could adopt? It would be a full 360 campaign to convince the political establishment, the media and the voters. If the industry succeeded, not only would it be good for business but it would be doing the right thing too.

Jo-ann Robertson is partner and managing director, corporate and public affairs, at Ketchum

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