How we rebuilt the House of Commons comms team in 18 months

A week is a long time in politics and a lot has happened in the 18 months since we became directors of communications for the House of Commons.

Clare Jennings (left) and Alice Holmes (right) have rebuilt the House of Commons comms team
Clare Jennings (left) and Alice Holmes (right) have rebuilt the House of Commons comms team

Brexit, prorogation (and un-prorogation), a general election, a new Speaker and two state openings has provided plenty of opportunity for the brilliant communications professionals working here to shine.

Our ambition was to be the ultimate, trusted source for impartial parliamentary information at a time of unprecedented public interest and fierce debate. 

Our internal communications focused on giving our colleagues the clarity and confidence necessary to enable the functioning of Parliament.

We’re also improving the way we work together across teams. 

Our first House-wide communications strategy and a new planning process mean our work is now better aligned for increased impact.  

A Centre of Excellence is ‘professionalising the profession’. 

And by boosting the central communications office we’re reducing duplication of cost and effort by central delivery of all communications that goes out on behalf of – or to – the whole organisation.

What is said and done in Westminster comes under intense scrutiny, and rightly so. 

A big part of our role is ensuring the media have the access they need. We’re demystifying parliamentary procedures with weekly media briefings; we’ve increased the number of live filming points; and we’ve popped the ‘Westminster bubble’, expanding access to regional and foreign publications. 

Our in-house photographer is in the chamber for all the big moments and her images regularly lead the news.

As one of the most iconic buildings in the world, there’s a great deal of interest in the Palace of Westminster itself.  

Big Ben is the subject of an ongoing Channel 4 documentary and our recent story about the discovery of a ‘secret door’ in Westminster Hall was picked up by more than 30 outlets in multiple countries.  

The new @UKHouseofCommons Instagram account is a great vehicle for these stories.

The House of Commons is a complex organisation, with 650 Members of Parliament and their staff, plus about 2,500 people working for the House Service in a huge variety of roles, including librarians, clock menders, security guards, clerks and cooks. 

Reaching such diverse internal audiences poses big challenges, not least engaging colleagues in non-desk based roles. But work is underway to make this happen, and we've successfully made the case for a new intranet (a top priority for 2020).

Culture change is a big focus, especially after the Cox report into bullying and harassment. 

As members of the Commons Executive Board, we ensure communications plays its fullest part in strategic decisions and cultural transformation.  

Regular ‘town hall’ sessions have raised the visibility of the House Service leadership team, and our ‘everyone has a voice’ campaign is encouraging colleagues across the organisation to live the House Service values.

It’s an incredible privilege to work here at such a fascinating time. 

The team is amazing and our job-share partnership has given us added stamina and resilience. 

There’s much more that we all want to do, and work is well under way.

Clare Jennings and Alice Holmes are joint directors of communications for the House of Commons 

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