In a report, published today, the National Audit Office (NAO) has found that the government’s Get ready for Brexit campaign made the public better aware of some of the things they might need to do ahead of the UK leaving the EU on 31 October 2019. However, it is not clear that the campaign led to the public being significantly better prepared.
The campaign was launched on 1 September 2019 and was stopped on 28 October 2019 after the government and the EU agreed an extension to the UK’s membership of the EU to 31 January 2020. Its objective was to ensure that everyone was prepared for leaving the EU on 31 October.
The Cabinet Office had overall responsibility for the campaign. The need to communicate multiple messages to multiple audiences, amid great political uncertainty, made this a complex campaign to deliver. It quickly assembled a dedicated team to work closely with departments to integrate messages from across government, and appointed contractors to help design, develop and deliver the cross-government campaign. The campaign was launched within six weeks of the start of the planning stage – the Cabinet Office’s own guidance expects government TV campaigns to be worked-up five months before launch.
In its business case, the Cabinet Office presented four campaign options of increasing scale from “do nothing” to spends of £15 million, £60 million or £100 million. The £100 million option was selected but the Cabinet Office’s business case did not demonstrate increased impact for the proposed spending on the air campaign compared to the lower-cost alternatives. This option comprised two components:
- An ‘air campaign’ to encourage people to identify what steps they might need to take to prepare. It included advertising through TV, radio, digital and other outlets.
- A ‘ground campaign’ to encourage people to take specific actions in 26 priority areas. It included non-digital activity such as roadshows and stakeholder events.
Most of the spending was allocated to the air campaign despite the business case identifying that it was the “on the ground activity” that would get people to act. Only the £100 million option included spending on an extensive ground campaign.
At the point the campaign was stopped, £46 million of the £100 million budget had been spent. The Cabinet Office estimates that the campaign reached 99.8% of the population and that each member of the public had the opportunity to see the adverts 55 times. According to a survey commissioned by the Cabinet Office, 58% of people could recall the campaign and 73% recalled it when shown an advert.
However, the proportion of UK citizens who reported that they have looked or have started to look for information, did not notably change. It ranged between 32% and 37% during the campaign and was 34% when the campaign stopped.
There was a plan for measuring achievement of just two out of the 26 priority actions that departments wanted citizens and businesses to take and performance reports referred to some but not all of the 26 actions. There were signs that action was being taken on some priority areas such as passport renewal applications and international driving permits issued, which increased during the campaign, though the Cabinet Office did not assess this against what was likely to be needed.
“At short notice, the Cabinet Office successfully corralled multiple government departments to work together effectively and launched this complex campaign at great speed. However, it is not clear that the campaign resulted in the public being significantly better prepared.
“If the Cabinet Office faces a similar challenge in the future, it should, from the start, focus much more on what impact is needed and how best to deliver the behaviour change required by government, targeting spending on the activities that are likely to add the greatest value.”
Gareth Davies, head of the NAO