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Cross-Government Communications: Covid-19

Volume 681: debated on Thursday 1 October 2020

What assessment his Department has made of the effectiveness of cross-Government communications during the covid-19 outbreak. (906873)

What assessment his Department has made of the effectiveness of cross-Government communications during the covid-19 outbreak. (906874)

What assessment his Department has made of the effectiveness of cross-Government communications during the covid-19 outbreak. (906882)

We evaluate the effectiveness of Government communications. We constantly monitor and gain insights on public awareness and compliance from regular evaluations. This question affords me the opportunity to pay tribute to the Central Office of Information for its work not just on covid-19, but in preparation for the end of the transition period.

I thank the Minister for that answer. The Cabinet Secretary said that consistency commands confidence. We all heard the Prime Minister last week on TV telling us to work from home again where possible to slow down the second wave of coronavirus. However, according to the Public and Commercial Services Union, civil servants, who have managed stoically, even heroically, during the crisis to keep the machinery of state running while mainly working from home, have now been instructed to return to their offices in order for the Departments to hit arbitrary and outdated Cabinet Office targets. The Government are saying one thing to the country and something entirely different to their workforce. Can the Minister correct this anomaly?

I would be very interested to hear whether the hon. Gentleman has examples of that. As far as I am aware, there are certain areas of government that do require people to come in to work. For example, some of the things that the Cabinet Office deals with have to be done in a secure environment, but we are following the same rules and guidelines that the rest of the UK workforce are. If he has specific examples that he wants me to look at, please send them to me.

Genuine concern has been expressed by the First Minister of Wales about the lack of engagement from the Prime Minister in terms of cross-Government discussions. May I raise a specific point with the Paymaster General? In England, people in restricted areas are able to travel into Wales to go on holiday. In Wales, people in a restricted area, such as in my constituency, are not allowed to travel to go on holiday. This has been asked of the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister this week. Could the Paymaster General, or indeed the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, urge the Prime Minister to say to people living in England, “If you are in a restricted area, please don’t go on holiday, please don’t travel into Wales, please don’t spread the virus”?

I will certainly take that up on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf. One of the benefits of the four nations working together is that we try to have as much consistency as possible and anticipate the impact of one set of rules on others, particularly communities living near the borders. I will follow that up for him and be in touch.

Government communications this week have been quite shambolic. My constituents have been writing to me to ask for more clear messaging. The Cabinet Office has spent more than £50 million on untendered contracts for media and consultancies, yet Ministers have found it hard to explain local measures this week. It has been reported that mask wearing in shops is going down instead of up, in contradiction to communications, and more people have been told to get the flu jab yet cannot get one. How are members of the public expected to understand and keep up with the changes if Ministers cannot?

I fully recognise that the rules have got more complex—were Matt Lucas recreating the “Baked Potato Song” now, he would have to write an opera. They are more complex because we have regional and local lockdowns, as opposed to a blanket lockdown, and I think that is what the nation wants: we want to keep our economy going and to give people as much freedom as we possibly can, while fighting this virus. By and large, although the public are fed up, they are following the rules and they are working together, with collective responsibility, to beat this virus. All Members of this House can help to deliver the messages by putting them on their Twitter feeds and by communicating them. Only by working together are we going to defeat this virus.