The ‘ABC’ of public affairs predictions for the year to come

While many will be glad to see the back of 2020, it is far from clear that 2021 will be any better. But one thing is clear: there will continued political disruption and, with it, the need for public affairs advice.

Stuart Thomson scans the horizon for the public affairs sector
Stuart Thomson scans the horizon for the public affairs sector

There are a number of big events that we can look forward to and others that we can speculate on.

There is, though, a third category: those that should happen but remain COVID-19 dependent.

So what could 2021 hold?

A – Anything but COVID-19

The Government will be desperate to set out its new policy agenda and get some momentum going. That will invariably mean that some policies will be more ‘developed’ than others, so there are plenty of opportunities for constructive engagement. The Government will be hoping that the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out will be going smoothly and that everything will return to ‘normal’.

B – Brexit

The transition period has ended and working relationships across Europe will now change, which is especially important for those operating across borders. We also have to appreciate that the reputation of the UK could take a hit. Sectors may need to engage on specific support and help while they adapt to the new rules. Others will hope that the Industrial Strategy refresh, for instance, opens up new opportunities.

C – Climate change

We have already seen that tackling climate change is part of the Government’s big, post-Cummings relaunch. With the COP26 conference to look forward to we can expect more announcements aimed at tackling emissions and, in all likelihood, more detail about how this will be achieved.

D – Devolution

This year will be make-or-break for the devolution agenda under this Government. Despite its manifesto commitments, largely as a result of its centralised approach to dealing with the pandemic, the future of devolution appears under pressure. The promised White Paper has been delayed and its content, along with timelines, will show how serious the Government really is about moving its mindset out of London. There are already some developments, such as plans to place the Infrastructure Bank in the North of England.

E – Elections

Elections across Scotland, Wales, and English local government, for Mayors, and Police and Crime Commissioners, mean 6 May will be a huge day. This date assumes that we are not deep in wave three or four of COVID-19, but otherwise it will paint a critical picture for the Government as well as the future of the UK. If the Conservatives do badly across the Mayoral elections then it may make them question further devolution and the promised roll-out of more mayors. Could there be an early fightback from Labour in the former Red Wall? Keir Starmer will certainly be hoping for some green shoots of recovery.

Alongside all of this will be the vaccine rollout which will, rightly, dominate much attention; but there will also be the normal operation of government.

Could there be a post-Brexit mini-Budget that also addresses the continued fallout from COVID-19 and what are the likely changes of a major reshuffle – maybe post-May elections?

We have so much to look forward to. Not least a return to events in Parliament, probably later in the year, and spending less time at home.

Stuart Thomson is head of public affairs at BBD Pitmans

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