Lockdown has provided us with the biggest behaviour change programme we have ever seen. It would be a real travesty if we went back to ‘business as usual’ without locking in some of the benefits achieved during lockdown.
Wherever you’ve worked over the last three months, most of us can agree that lockdown has been challenging. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that its impact will be far-reaching and long-lasting.
But, as the West of England emerges from lockdown with the rest of the country, it feels right to reflect on some positive things to emerge from this crisis that are worth holding on to.
Businesses at the West of England Initiative’s latest meeting heard from those leading the local conversation on how we travel about lockdown’s impact on traffic congestion, air quality and carbon emissions. The findings are stark:
Peak time traffic levels in Bristol are said to be around 40% lower than pre-lockdown levels, although are back on the increase.
Bus passenger numbers are reported to be at around 13% of ordinary levels.
Air quality in cities is markedly improved as traffic has fallen.
Discussions about how a man with shared responsibility for transporting tens of thousands of Africans to British colonies is reflected in Bristol’s history were swept aside by protesters. It highlighted a sense that the time for talking (and getting nowhere) is over. In reality, as the debate goes global, the local conversation may be about to get going again.
“Dominic Cummings faced an agonising decision. But he made the wrong call, at a time when the government’s guidance to the public to stay at home was clear. I understand the public’s anger and have made this clear in my discussions with him. But I do not believe this error is serious enough to cost anyone their job. Dominic Cummings still has much to offer this government. I want us to move forward and focus entirely on recovering from the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.”
[A suggested response].
You may disagree with the words used above, and there are many other things that can be said about Dominic Cummings’ breach of the government’s guidance by travelling to Durham. But if you heard something like this from the Prime Minister before this crisis engulfed his government, how would you feel?
You may be hacked off that the architect of the government’s ‘stay home’ message travelled 260 miles as the rest of the country followed the guidance.
Would acknowledging an error of judgement have ‘drawn a line’ under the issue? It won’t have stopped the negative headlines, it’s true. But it may have lessened the hit to its reputation, which has been severe. It could be lasting.
I’ve often found press conferences frustrating during my career as a journalist, PR person and (lately) as a public observer.
They have their uses. When there is major focus on an issue, they provide all interested media with the latest information. This ensures consistency and even-handedness.
Following criticism of anonymous briefings on COVID-19 to select media, press conferences entered the spotlight as a daily part of the government’s efforts to keep the public updated on the pandemic response. Since mid-March, millions of people are watching them regularly. Many on my Twitter feed – journalists, politicians, comms people, family and friends – appear baffled at journalists’ questions and frustrated at politicians’ non-answers.
Anyone who’s attended or arranged press conferences will recognise these glitches, which are highlighted every day.
The response to the COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the importance of timely, good communications in the effort to keep the public informed.
As this crisis has evolved, agile comms and clear messaging have been at the heart of the government’s approach. Communications also features in many stories about things that aren’t going so well, as people struggle to get the information they need.