Coronavirus has highlighted the weaknesses in the Welsh Government’s patchy comms operation
Daran Hill, Managing Director at Positif public affairs consultancy
There are two discussions I’m not interested in having right now. One is about UK Government comms during Covid-19: there are plenty of other people discussing that and they can have way more influence than I ever could.
The second bit I’m discarding is whether broadcasting should be devolved to Wales. It seems to me that everyone who wanted broadcasting devolved before the crisis began, still want that to happen now; and the opponents of devolving broadcasting pre-Covid-19 are still opposed to that move now.
Yet very little has been written about the Welsh Government communications response to the current crisis. Looking back over the last week there have been some real and noticeable gear changes, not least the excellent Business Wales website. It has Covid-19 written through it like a stick of rock.
But this isn’t consistent.
Some aspects of Welsh Government communications are working well. The daily press conferences are strong, clear and persuasive. Vaughan Gething, Ken Skates and Kirsty Williams, in particular, have all acquitted themselves well this week.
But what is lacking is consistency across all aspects of government. Take last Monday for example. The Welsh Government published its Regulation of Buses Bill at the very time people were stopping using buses.
By Tuesday it had thankfully deferred this item from being discussed in plenary, along with a bill about circuses (which nobody can visit in the foreseeable future, with or without wild animals).
Not even the public health function of the Welsh Government was immune. On Monday morning their Twitter feed was still focused on the harm of alcohol rather than the harm of Covid-19.
The defence will no doubt be that these were pre-programmed messages that were already in ‘the Grid’ of government communications and timetabling. But let’s all be clear: the whole Grid should have been binned last weekend.
As it was, Welsh Government comms was stuck in normality and even by mid-week was still pumping stuff out about banning plastics. Right now, the Welsh Government must focus relentlessly on getting its message across about Covid-19 – anything else is a luxury.
This message discipline needs to extend to individual ministers too. While the Wales v Scotland rugby game was being pulled, the minister with responsibility for civil contingencies was preoccupied with a far more pressing (and depressing) concern.
As the Assembly becomes the “Welsh Parliament” or “Senedd Cymru” on 6 May my twitter will now be using MS / AS instead of AM for Member of the Senedd / Aelod o’r Senedd!
— Julie James MS (@JulieJamesAM) March 13, 2020
And as the Welsh Government ministers have now seemingly ditched their official twitter accounts for their AM or MS ones, can someone in Welsh Government please clean up the comms aspect of government members’ biog pages? Starting with the Health Minister.
For once, people might actually be seeking out the right twitter account for Vaughan Gething…
No doubt this rant will have got a few backs up. Good. It was intended to. Welsh Government communications has been way too patchy. Considering the number of people working on Welsh Government comms, that is some pretty impressive underachievement.
Maybe there are mitigating reasons for all the examples I have cited. Maybe the pace is changing and I am being unfair. Maybe the answer is political and not procedural. Maybe we need a full-time Minister for Information.
Because someone needs to get a proper grip and make sure every aspect of everything the Welsh Government says and does right now is about one thing.
And that isn’t anything to do with cheap cider, circuses, cotton buds or bus ownership.