Telling the truth about SME life today

How to get your voice heard in Westminster

1. Who are you talking to?

Meeting a minister sounds great and looks impressive. But equally these meetings are difficult and time consuming to obtain. The first thing to do is to work out who is involved in making a decision – from ministers to civil servants and influential committee members.

Getting the civil service on-side is crucial to ensuring that your voice is heard. The civil service has huge influence, and their speaking favourably of your point of view to senior decision makers is crucial. Use opposition spokespersons to challenge the government minister. Position yourself as delivering a solution to that political problem.

Enlist the support of genuine experts in both Houses of Parliament. And don’t forget the backbenches – officers of the informal All Party Groups, and your constituency MPs (both for your home address and that of the business). Identifying and talking with backbench MPs whose ideas align with yours is key: they will also help make your case to the decision makers.

2. Knowing your audience

It is hugely important to make sure you’ve got a hook – a reason for a meeting a civil servant or MP, and it’s always better to go with a positive rather than a negative.

Even if you have an issue you need addressed, pushing against the government’s agenda is like swimming against the tide. Conciliatory is a watch word: make sure you’re showing how your position is beneficial to decision makers – you want them to see you as the solution, not the problem.

3. Face to face…

You have more chance of furthering your position by speaking to the right person face to face than putting forward any amount of brilliantly worded prose.

But, don’t forget the ground work before a meeting. Make sure you crystallise your arguments down to the most concise briefing possible – preferably a single side of A4. This needs to be sent across to whomever you’re meeting in advance to inform the discussion. And talk in the right political language to the right person at the right time.

4. … But don’t forget what’s on in Westminster!

There are a number of consultation and policy reviews being taken forward, and participating in these must be a key part of your engagement.

Make sure you’re identifying the consultations relevant to your campaign, and that you’re making submissions to them. This will help in your engagement and meetings with decision makers.

And remember, if a minister makes a major decision which impacts adversely upon your business because he did not know that it would, then that is your fault, not the minister’s!

5. Don’t forget the committees

Select committees have a huge amount of influence and are an integral part of the policy-making process. They challenge government ministers and senior civil servants and have, on occasion, proved hugely influential.

Engaging with the members of these committees can help ensure that your views are taken on board and represented. In the longer-term, this can also open the door to your providing evidence to a committee in what is a prominent Westminster forum.

6. Making contact

An adviser makes the decision whether or not to book a meeting in the first few seconds of receiving a request. 

Keep your request to the point and as short as possible. This isn’t a time for subtlety – so make sure the subject of your correspondence (ie: Meeting Request) is at the very top of the document.

Chris Whitehouse is the managing director of the Whitehouse Consultancy, a specialist in public and parliamentary affairs. He has advised a wide range of businesses and organisations including the British Olympic Association, Holland & Barrett and the British Gurkha Welfare Society. You can contact him at [email protected]

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