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.
Businesses in the West of England face a challenge like no other as the national response to the COVID-19 outbreak has taken hold.
Employers across the region have moved quickly to adjust to new measures whilst dealing with a flurry of information and guidance from government about what to do and how to access business support. Concerns about the pressure on the NHS and public bodies combines with anxiety about how businesses can continue trading as the economy is placed into temporary hibernation.
As director of a small and growing business in Bristol, the most striking thing about this crisis for me is that everyone is impacted. Whatever sector we are in, we are indeed all in this together.
The principles of collaboration and working together have never been more important than they are now.